Voice of America: Johnny Cash in 1969

Here, on the anniversary of Cash’s death in 2003 and in tribute to the one and only Man in Black, LIFE.com presents a selection of photos — many of which did not originally appear in LIFE — made for a November 1969 feature in the magazine titled “Hard-Times King of Song.”

Johnny Cash in Tennessee, 1969.

“Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.” — Bono

There aren’t too many American artists of the past century who left a richer legacy, and one can argue that none was more influential across a broader range of genres in his chosen profession, than the Man in Black. Through six decades, Johnny Cash created music that spoke with power and eloquence to sharecroppers, punk rockers, prison inmates and hip-hoppers. Many of the songs he penned or that he made famous — “Big River,” “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Get Rhythm,” “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” “The Matador” and on and on — have not only become classics, but have been embraced by Americans of every political stance, creed and ethnicity as something akin to national treasures.

But Johnny Cash was not merely a great songwriter and singularly engaging singer. He was a cultural force. When he dueted with a young Bob Dylan on Dylan’s gorgeous “Girl From the North Country” in 1969, the pairing was a quiet revolution, reconciling Dylan’s New Folk counterculture blues with Cash’s old-school, hillbilly honky-tonk.

When he recorded Peter LaFarge’s “Ballad of Ira Hayes” in 1964 — and brought it to No. 3 on the Billboard country charts — he brought the terrible tale of how one of the men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima died, drunk and alone, to far more people than had ever heard the song or the story before.


Complete text and more pictures linked here.

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