100 Greatest Women, #39: June Carter Cash

100 Greatest Women

#39

June Carter Cash

In the shadow of a famous family and an even more famous husband, June Carter Cash has largely been known and defined as a supporting player in legacies larger than her own. But while she did choose to place her own career second to her obligations to The Carter Family and then to Johnny Cash, her work has also been important on its own.

The daughter of Maybelle Carter, she was already performing with her mother and sisters Helen and Anita at the age of ten. From the forties on, she was a primary member of Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters. In 1950, the group moved to Nashville and joined the Grand Ole Opry Cast. There, Carter became known for her offbeat comic personality as much as her music, though she did have a solo hit in 1956 with “Juke Box Blues.” During this period, she was married to country star Carl Smith, and together they had a daughter who would become a third generation country star, Carlene Carter.

In the early sixties, the Carters began touring with Johnny Cash. On the road, June developed feelings for Cash which she immortalized in song. She co-wrote “Ring of Fire” with Merle Kilgore, and Johnny made it an enormous hit in 1963. In 1965, she sang with Cash on his single “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” For the next decade, almost all of her recordings of note would be with Cash, including the Grammy-winning hits “Jackson” and “If I Had a Hammer.” June and Johnny married in 1968, and their son John Carter Cash was born in 1970.

June is widely credited for getting Johnny’s professional and personal life in order, and helping him battle drug and alcohol addictions. Her own career was put on the back burner, but she did record the excellent solo album Appalachian Pride in 1975. Unfortunately, fans of June Carter the solo act would wait another 24 years before she’d return with another album, but 1999’s Press On was warmly received, earning her her first solo Grammy.

When she passed away in 2002 from complications during heart surgery, her husband followed only months later. In the years since, her legacy finally began to get the attention it warranted. The posthumous album Wildwood Flower earned a pair of Grammys in 2004. Johnny & June’s love story was immortalized on film in 2006 with Walk the Line. Reese Witherspoon, who was personally chosen by June, won an Oscar for her portrayal of the legend. Meanwhile, her daughter, Carlene Carter, portrayed her on stage in Nashville, in a show that explored the “Carter” part of the June Carter Cash legacy.

June Carter Cash

Essential Singles

  • “Juke Box Blues”, 1956
  • “Ring of Fire” (Johnny Cash single), 1963
  • “It Ain’t Me Babe” (with Johnny Cash), 1965
  • “Jackson” (with Johnny Cash), 1967
  • “If I Were a Carpenter” (with Johnny Cash), 1970

Essential Albums

  • Carryin’ On with Johnny Cash and June Carter, 1967
  • Appalachian Pride, 1975
  • Press On, 1999
  • Wildwood Flower, 2003

Industry Awards

  • CMA Vocal Group of the Year – Johnny Cash & June Carter, 1969
  • Grammy: Best Country Vocal Performance, Duo/Group (“Jackson”), 1968
  • Grammy: Best Country Vocal Performance, Duo/Group (“If I Were a Carpenter”), 1971
  • Grammy: Best Traditional Folk Album (Press On), 2000
  • Grammy: Best Traditional Folk Album (Wildwood Flower), 2004
  • Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Keep On the Sunny Side”), 2004

<== #40. Minnie Pearl

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16 Comments

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16 Responses to 100 Greatest Women, #39: June Carter Cash

  1. B. JonathanNo Gravatar

    I would have expected both Minnie and June to be higher in the list due to their inarguable presence in country music history and how it compares to those who I expect to see in the 20s and 30s, but nonetheless it is nice to see them both spotlighted in the Top 40.

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    An essential single you missed : “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Henry “Homer” Haynes and Kenneth “Jethro” Burns. I would have June Carter higher on the list (but behind Minnie Pearl.

    There are some interesting radio shows available of Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters (with fiddler/guitarist Chet Atkins as part of their troup). These shows help spotlight the June Carter stage personality

  3. I would also have placed both June and Minnie a little higher on the list. They are both country music icons which I figured would have placed them higher.

  4. LeeannNo Gravatar

    This is about where I expected both Minnie and June to be placed. If I were to undertake such a project, it’s right about where I’d put them.

    Yes, June is a beloved figure, but would she really be so beloved without Johnny’s influence/connection? This is not to say that I don’t think she’s earned a spot on her own merrit, but I think Johnny really ellivated the level by which she is revered today in mainstream country music. Fortunately, Johnny was able to do that for June, because she is surely a character that country music is better for having.

    While Minnie is also revered and has contributed significantly to the persona of the genre, I don’t know that she’s musically contributed to country music. So, I think she’s appropriately placed.

    To me, 40 and 39 are pretty high spots on a scale of 100, anyway. So, unless I feel someone has been omitted or isn’t even a country music factor, I’ll probably be satisfied with most of the rankings from here on out.

  5. B. JonathanNo Gravatar

    If the list is based on influence and impact, I think Minnie deserves a slight boost. Her contributions may not be musical, but they laid the foundation for the Opry and beyond. And yes, Paul, I would place her above June. Even as high as Top 20. As with June, I’m in agreeement in terms of her partnership with Johnny, but still feel her own legacy justifies her placement about 5-7 slots higher.

  6. TomNo Gravatar

    june carter cash was a master at being in the right place when it mattered. she stood behind, beside and next to her husband, but skillfully managed never to get in his way – not a small feat for someone with artistic credentials like hers and probably, no small job either, with a man like johnny cash.

    having said that, i remember a concert here in europe in the early 80′, when she got in front of him, kicked of her shoes and fired up the place, makeing the crowd shooting up from their seats. no doubt, she belongs into the top 40.

  7. JoannaNo Gravatar

    June Carter was a tramp!She wasn’t a great woman she was a adultress who broke up Johnny and Vivian’s marriage and family.Really I can’t see how anybody would want to have an affair with her because she wasn’t beautiful thats for sure.Vivian was beautiful
    June eww!!!

  8. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Come off it Joanna – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but whether or not June was a homewrecker (and I think Johnny’s marriage was coming unravelled of its own accord) and whether or not June Carter was beautiful or not, is totally irrelevent to the topic. June Carter was a gifted songwriter, brilliant comedianne and stage personality and is definitely one of the most important women in the history of the genre

  9. Eva

    Hello. I live in Europe-Czech Republic. I really love June Carter Cash best and I like Johnny Cash and Carlene Carter, too. Yeas, I agree that June would be higher in tle list. She was so great and beautiful woman. She saved Johnny Cash. She was treasure for him and he couldn’t live without her.
    Rest in peace June and Johnny.

  10. kattykitNo Gravatar

    I love Johnny and June Cash. But I understand what Joanna’s saying. Johnny and Vivian’s marriage was unraveling from his extended absence and drug use. But perhaps it could have worked out after he cleaned himself up. Being involved with June certainly didn’t help. And they began their romance while he was still married, so I can see why people would say that. If it was us or anybody else that’s what we would call them, right?-Don’t lie you would. June is credited for getting him off drugs and saving him, but if Vivian could have helped if June wasn’t in the picture, she loved him and wanted him around. But he was wrapped up with June, so she never had a chance. I don’t agree with her saying June isn’t beautiful because she was, in a different way. Were all beautiful like that and looks have nothing to do with love.
    But putting all that behind us, they were both good people (that we can all relate to in one way or another) and once together they stayed together and made beautiful music. And Vivian did find love again after Johnny so she did move on and found happiness of her own. And remember something wonderful did come from their relationship, and that is 3 beautiful daughters.

  11. kattykitNo Gravatar

    I meant 4 daughters.

    Rest in peace Johnny and June.

    We Love you.

  12. TomNo Gravatar

    …bad stripes day, today?

  13. Tom’s comment is referring to a comment that was deleted due to violation to our comment policy.

  14. agree with joanna..although it wasnt about looks but viv was beautiful,,ive read her book,,hollywood puts a spin on things so did nashville and cash himself,,,all though june was great in her own right,,i do beleive she was a big part of breaking up his marriage,,but folks change,,and things change u,,as time goes by,,but viv deserves much credit,,it had to be very painful for her,,esp after u read her book..im open minded i love the j and j story too,,i just think u can see it as it was,,famous folks put a spin on their money makers,,