100 Greatest Women, #44: June Carter Cash

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#44

June Carter Cash

2008 Edition: #39 (-5)

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.

Essential Singles

  • Juke Box Blues, 1956
  • Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash), 1963
  • It Ain’t Me Babe (with Johnny Cash), 1965
  • Jackson (with Johnny Cash), 1967
  • If I Were a Carpenter (with Johnny Cash), 1970
  • Keep On the Sunny Side, 2003

Essential Albums

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

Industry Awards

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

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #43. Minnie Pearl

Previous: #45. Patsy Montana

2 Comments

  1. The Cash and Carter Families are among the greatest families to ever grace music. They had the all star talent in Johnny Cash, Mother Maybelle Carter, The Carter Sisters, Carlene Carter, and June herself. June do get overshadow by her famous family, but June was a great talent in her own right.

  2. Similar to Jackson, I also like the June/Johnny duet “Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man”. A bit sillier but you can tell they were having fun with it.

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