When I was in Nashville last week with a group of journalists, we stopped by the museum-in-progress to get a sneak peek. We thought we would just be taking a look at the museum store, which is already in operation and open to the public; and perhaps get a tiny glimpse into the exhibit space, which is in its final stages of finish out.
Were we surprised, then, when a dramatic and fiesty lady came walking through the door, supported by her own cowboy-hat-donned man in black. We were introduced to Joanne Cash Yates, Johnny’s big sister.
She was wearing a black t-shirt that spelled “CASH” across it underneath a leopard print jacket. Her “Cruella deVille” mane of white and black hair gave her even more attitude; the petite woman’s presence filled up the room.
“When he was a little boy, he always said that he was going to be a singer one day,” Joanne told us. “He was going to be on television and in movies. I laughed and told him he was crazy. But he never wavered. All his life, he only wanted to be that one thing. He only wanted to sing.”
The museum has the involvement and support of the Cash family, including niece Kelly Hancock who operates the store. It’s the brainchild of Cash biographer and archivist Bill Miller, who will fill the museum with his own collection of artifacts from the singer’s life. These include Cash’s 12th grade report card, furnishings from his home with June Carter and the hand-written lyrics for the song My Lord Has Gone, which Cash wrote just before his death in 2003.
As Joanne shared more stories about growing up with Johnny, another member of the family arrived: brother Tommy, who was celebrating his birthday. As the two discussed what other pieces from Johnny’s life that they might still have to go in the museum — his military dog tags, certain photographs — I just stood there sort of in awe that I was meeting, in an extremely personal and intimate environment, the family members of Johnny Cash. The Johnny Cash. Definitely a wow moment.
Joanne and Tommy are the other two Cash siblings who are also singers, and have enjoyed their own musical careers. One of the journalists asked if they would sing a song for us — which they did, with very little hesitation even though they were put on the spot!
It seems obvious that question has been unequivocally answered. Johnny Cash not only remains immensely popular, but has huge appeal across all ages and musical genres.
“I want people to know, when they walk out of this museum, the person that he was,” Joanne said. “The human being — the humanity of Johnny.”
“His music has touched all our lives, but he was much more than a musician,” Tommy added.Visit The Johnny Cash Museum Facebook page