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Johnny Cash’s Final Performance: A Triumphant Farewell

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” That iconic greeting marked the beginning of Johnny Cash’s concerts, leading into his classic hit “Folsom Prison Blues” from 1955. His final appearance on stage maintained this tradition. Before diving into footage of that moment, let’s set the scene. Johnny Cash faced serious health challenges leading up to his last show on July 5, 2003. By that time, he was quite fragile, navigating life in a wheelchair, dealing with facial paralysis, and grieving deeply.

Diagnosed initially in 1997 with Shy–Drager syndrome, a neurodegenerative disorder, Cash’s condition was later reclassified as autonomic neuropathy stemming from diabetes. Despite his declining health and bouts of pneumonia, Cash pressed on, continuing to collaborate with producer Rick Rubin and releasing acclaimed albums through Rubin’s American Recordings. Adding to his trials, Cash’s beloved wife, June Carter Cash, passed away on May 15, 2003, at the age of 73, leaving him to face his final concert just two months later.

The backdrop for Johnny Cash’s last live performance was the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, nestled at Clinch Mountain’s base. This venue held deep personal significance for Cash as a tribute to June, his late wife, who was Maybelle Carter’s daughter. Maybelle Carter, alongside her brother-in-law A.P. Carter and sister-in-law Sara Carter, founded The Carter Family, a cornerstone of country music history. June began her career with the Carter Family at ten years old.

After the original Carter Family ceased recording in 1943, Maybelle and her daughters formed The Carter Sisters & Mother Maybelle, eventually becoming members of The Grand Ole Opry cast in Nashville in 1950. It was here that June and Johnny Cash first crossed paths, despite both being married at the time. The Carter Family Fold, part museum and part concert venue, occupies the land of the original Carter Family homestead. Now, let’s revisit a highlight from Johnny and June’s heyday:

“Jackson,” penned by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber in 1963, was made famous by Johnny Cash and June Carter’s rendition in February 1967, shortly before their marriage in March 1968. The song climbed to the second spot on the US Country charts and won them a Grammy in 1968 for Best Country & Western Performance by a Duo, Trio, or Group.

Cash’s final performance at the Carter Family Fold, despite battling laryngitis and a hoarse voice, was a poignant homage to The Carter Family’s legacy, showcasing his enduring spirit, vast musical repertoire, and undying love for June. To some, his voice may have sounded worn and aged, but to fans, it was a powerful testament to his resilience and dedication.

Among those present, John Carter Cash, Johnny and June’s son, stood out. Spotted in a white T-shirt in the initial shots, he assisted his father with the microphone and guitar. A musician and producer himself, John Carter Cash carries on his parents’ legacy. Johnny Cash passed away on September 12, 2003, merely four months following June’s death. Shall we enjoy one more track from the Man in Black?

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