Originally created 11/12/03

Cash tribute celebrates singer's contribution to American music

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The late Johnny Cash - a pioneer of both country and rock music - was honored with a tribute featuring artists and performances as diverse and far-reaching as his own career.

Rosanne Cash opened Monday's show at the Ryman Auditorium by singing her father's song, "I Still Miss Someone." It was the first of many Cash songs performed at the former home of the Grand Ole Opry by some of the most influential names in contemporary music.

Willie Nelson, George Jones and Kris Kristofferson sang "Big River," and Travis Tritt performed a slow, bluesy version of "I Walk the Line." Hank Williams Jr. sang "Ring of Fire."

Sheryl Crow performed "Hurt," a song about drug addiction that Cash recorded in 2002. The song, written by Trent Reznor of the rock group Nine Inch Nails, introduced Cash to a younger generation of fans.

"When he gave his voice to something, he dedicated his voice and his intellect," Crow said.

Larry Gatlin performed a song he said he wrote the day Cash died, with lyrics that included the maudlin phrase "a man can't live with a broken heart too long." The song ends on the happy note that the man has joined his love in heaven and "now he's got a heart and a brand new song."

Actor Tim Robbins was master of ceremonies for the show, which was taped and will be broadcast at 8 p.m. EST Saturday on Country Music Television.

Cash died Sept. 12 at age 71 of complications from diabetes.

His stepdaughter, singer Carlene Carter, said the family has struggled through a difficult year with the death of her mother, June Carter Cash, in May, followed soon after by Cash's death. Last month, Carter Cash's daughter died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"This is truly a tribute," she said of the concert. "It's a way for us to celebrate the music they brought to the world."

Carter said her stepfather told her when she was young that it's better to be one-of-a-kind than one of many.

"We'd sit on the bus from age 10 on up, and he'd teach me songs," she said. "He really educated us about music."

Tickets were free and distributed by lottery. More than 2,000 people attended the show at the Ryman, which was built in 1892 for church revivals and is still known as the Mother Church of Country Music.

"I think that's what he and June would have wanted," said Cash's great-niece Kellye Cash of the ticket giveaway.

Ticket winners Morris Franklin and Carmen Haussner flew in from San Antonio, even though they had to be back at work Tuesday. They said it certainly was worth the trip.

"That was so emotional. I have no mascara left," said Haussner, 33.

Franklin, 36, said the concert "really makes you realize how many genres he touched."

The Rev. Billy Graham was among several people to send recorded messages of love, saying he expects to join Cash and June Carter Cash in heaven soon.

"He was an oak tree in a garden of weeds," said Bono, lead singer for the rock group U2, who toasted Cash with a pint of Guinness beer in a recorded message. "He's not in a garden of weeds now. He's in heaven with June where all the saints are."

Ronnie Dunn of the country duo Brooks & Dunn told the audience he was wearing a black coat Cash had given him when he was a struggling young artist.

"I feel the ghost of Johnny Cash so strong tonight," he told the audience. "Do you feel it?"

The show ended with the entire Cash family on stage singing with the audience "We'll Meet Again" from Cash's final album, "American IV: The Man Comes Around."

With his raw, bare-bones sound, Cash helped pioneer rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, blending Delta blues with Appalachian folk.

Steve Earle, who performed "Folsom Prison Blues," said Cash came to Nashville as an outsider who broke conventions by writing his own songs and speaking his mind.

"He did things exactly the way he wanted to do them and stuck to his guns, and proved that that can be done and be done successfully," Earle said.

As Robbins put it, Cash "knocked the world of pop music on its ear, then went on to do it in Nashville and the world."


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