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Johnny Cash’s Final Show: A Triumph of the Spirit

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” This memorable line opened Johnny Cash’s performances, echoing the vibe of his classic hit “Folsom Prison Blues” from 1955. His final public performance also began this way. To appreciate the significance of this last appearance, let’s provide some context. By his last concert on July 5, 2003, Cash was confronting serious health challenges. His condition was dire; he was physically weakened, dependent on a wheelchair, afflicted with partial facial paralysis, and in the depths of sorrow.

Starting in 1997, Cash faced significant health issues, initially diagnosed as Shy–Drager syndrome, but later identified as autonomic neuropathy related to diabetes. Despite his failing health and battles with pneumonia, Cash continued to create music with producer Rick Rubin, gaining widespread admiration for their collaborations on the American Recordings label. Compounding his difficulties was the loss of his cherished wife, June Carter Cash, who passed away on May 15, 2003, at the age of 73, just two months before his final performance.

Cash chose the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, near Clinch Mountain, for his last performance, a venue deeply meaningful to him. It served as a touching tribute to June, connecting to her lineage as part of The Carter Family, trailblazers in country music. The Carter Family Fold, a combination of museum and concert hall, resides on the ancestral Carter land and provided an apt setting for Cash’s farewell homage.

“Jackson,” a song written by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber, and made famous by Johnny Cash and June Carter in February 1967, became a hallmark of their partnership, culminating in their marriage in 1968. It reached number two on the US Country charts and earned them a Grammy in 1968. Cash’s rendition at the Carter Family Fold, despite his laryngitis, transcended a mere musical performance. It was a poignant showcase of his resilient spirit, his profound musical impact, and his deep affection for June Carter Cash.

Featuring in the opening scenes of the video is John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny and June, who assists with the mic and guitar. His involvement, as both a musician and producer, lends a personal dimension to the performance. Johnny Cash’s remarkable journey concluded on September 12, 2003, just a few months following this deeply moving farewell. Let’s honor his legacy with another track from the iconic Man in Black.

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