Johnny Cash Returns
To ‘Stamping Ovation’
The stamp features a photograph taken by Frank Bez for Columbia Records (now part of Sony Music Entertainment) during a photo session for Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963). The reverse side of the pane includes a larger version of the photograph featured on the stamp. The square stamp pane was designed to resemble the appearance of a 45 rpm record sleeve.
The Man in Black
Johnny Cash (1932–2003) was a music visionary best remembered internationally as a country music artist, though his influence can be felt in many genres — from rock and folk to blues and gospel.
Born into a poor farming family, he grew up in rural Arkansas, a region that struggled under the weight of the Depression and natural disasters. The culture of that era remained with him throughout his life. Three touchstones left an especially rich legacy — the Bible, gospel and country music. Cash began to find his own voice among them after leaving home in 1950 to serve in the U.S. Air Force.
Stationed in Germany, half a world away from everyone and everything he knew, Cash turned to music for solace. During breaks he pulled out his guitar and began to write his own songs. What emerged was a voice unlike any heard before: deep, quavering, and inflected with the legacy of a hardscrabble beginning.
“Folsom Prison Blues” was one of the first songs Cash recorded after returning home from military service in 1954. He landed a job as a salesman in Memphis, TN, but dreams of making music loomed large. In early 1955, he visited Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, the same studio where Elvis Presley had just recorded his first singles. Although Cash and his friends — Luther Perkins on electric guitar and Marshall Grant on bass — had limited musical ability, the boom-chicka-boom sound of their music proved infectious. They recorded several songs at those first sessions, including “Cry, Cry, Cry.” Released as a single in June 1955, “Cry, Cry, Cry” rode the country chart for a few days in November 1955, while “Folsom Prison Blues” cracked the country music top ten in 1956.
Cash found inspiration for his music in the nation’s history, in the stories of outlaws and laborers, and in his own life experience. His songs about Depression-era America, especially the rural landscape of his childhood, made him unique among the popular artists of the day. Themes of redemption, loneliness, love, loss, and death colored his music with a gritty realism that differed markedly from other socially conscious popular music.
In 1977, Cash was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and three years later, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1992, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1996, he received the Kennedy Center Honors. Three years later, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. President George W. Bush presented him with the 2001 National Medal of Arts for lifetime achievement.
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