Sierra Club Productions
The Appalachians: Filming with Johnny Cash
By Mari-Lynn Evans
Johnny and Rosanne Cash, July 9, 2003, at his home in Henderdonville, TN. Photo courtesy of Evening Star Productions
On July 9, 2003 we were honored to have the opportunity to film an interview with Johnny Cash at his home in Hendersonville, TN, for the documentary series, The Appalachians. We had no idea that it would be the last filmed interview Mr. Cash ever granted. His daughter, Rosanne, had traveled down from New York to join us for the interview.
Johnny Cash grew up in Arkansas on a small family farm. The Cash family had come to this country from Scotland and he was proud of his Scots roots. His connection to Appalachia was strong both socially and musically. His promotion of the Carter family music, which he loved so much, helped cement it in American culture. The songs he wrote and sang told the story of the Appalachian people in a way that made him one of the greatest stars of country and gospel music. His respect for the Appalachian people, their heritage, their culture, their music, and their religion is heard in his interview for The Appalachians. We also hear it in the songs he sang for us, including many Carter Family songs and the wonderful "Forty Shades of Green," a story of his Scots-Irish heritage.
One of the reasons I was so excited to be able to interview Mr. Cash for the film was because of what he stood for. He was "The Man in Black" because he always supported the downtrodden, the forgotten, those in need. He was a social activist as well as an artist. He was never afraid to voice his political opinions and to talk openly about his love of Appalachia. His deep love for his wife, June Carter Cash, and his children was something so pure and touching.
During the interview, Mr. Cash performed several songs with his daughter, Rosanne. "Forty Shades of Green," was written after he first visited Ireland. That song so represented Ireland that years later when he was there performing it, an older man insisted it must have been an old Irish folk tune. His words could always take you home again--no matter where that home was for you.
I always thought Johnny Cash represented the best in us. He cared about his family, his community, and those who didn't have a voice. To have him included in our film talking about his life and his heritage was one of the greatest honors of my life.
I hope when people view the film, they will see how Johnny Cash loved life. I hope he knew how much we all loved him. He is an American legend.