johnny cash

The Late, Great Johnny Cash’s Final Concert

Sujan Tamang 

On July 5, 21 years ago, the legendary country music performer Johnny Cash would perform his final show. At the Carter Family Fold, a music hall in Hiltons, Virginia, Cash would perform a 30-minute set that featured all of his biggest hits from his career.

Johnny always started his performance with, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” and the last show was no exception. Before we get into the video, let’s go through the backstory. He had been battling several health problems by that time. He was frail and had partial facial paralysis but still gave a memorable performance.

Johnny was diagnosed with Shy-Drager syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease in 1997. It was also later revised to autonomic neuropathy due to diabetes. His lungs were also weakened by pneumonia. Despite all these, he still recorded music with producer Rich Rubin and released albums on Rubin’s label, American Recordings. His last concert was in July 2003 two months after his wife’s death on 15 May 2003.

His final performance was at the Carter Family Fold at the foot of Clinch Mountain in Hiltons, Virginia. June, his deceased wife was the daughter of Maybelle Carter, who together with her husband’s brother, A.P. Carter, and her sister-in-law, Sara Carter formed the first family of country music, The Carter Family. June started singing with the Carters at the age of 10.

When the original Carter Family stopped in 1943, Maybelle and her three daughters performed as The Carter Sisters & Mother Maybelle. The group was also joined by the cast of The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. This was back in 1950. Johnny and June met at The Grand Ole Opry. Both were already married. Let’s take a look at them singing together.

Back to his final performance, his voice was quite hoarse and he had laryngitis. The performance was creaky but it was Johnny with all those health problems. His performance was a reminder of his love for June Carter Cash.

Johnny opened his show with the song “Folsom Prison Blues.” He sat there and played the famous music, crooning the lyrics with his aging yet ever-changing voice.

Following were renditions of “I Walk the Line” and “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” The artist addressed a few words in honor of his late wife June Carter, who had died only a few months previously, before moving on to “Ring of Fire.”

He told the crowd, “The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. We connect somewhere between here and heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from heaven, to visit with me tonight, to give me courage and inspiration, like she always has. … I thank God for June Carter. I love her with all my heart. I would like to do a song that she wrote that she was extremely proud of.”

The generally upbeat “Ring of Fire” was sung beautifully, strummed quietly, and had a melancholy undertone.

Soon after, Cash introduced “Angel Band,” a song that Emmylou Harris had performed during his late wife’s funeral, according to Cash. Cash’s final two songs, “Big River” and “Understand Your Man,” were played after.

A standing ovation and a few more notes of “I Walk the Line” marked the end of the show, and Cash was assisted off the stage. On September 12, 2003, a few months later, the icon would pass away. He was seventy-one.

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