66 Years Ago: Johnny Cash Makes His Grand Ole Opry Debut
Cash performed “I Walk the Line,” “Get Rhythm” and “So Doggone Lonesome" during his Opry debut. At the time of his performance, "I Walk the Line" was still climbing the charts; the now-legendary tune became his first No. 1 hit two weeks later.
"When I came to appear on the Grand Ole Opry the first time, I waited two hours out in the waiting room before the manager of the Opry [Jim Denny] finally said, 'Come on in,'" Cash recalled to author Robert K. Oermann. "He looked at my black clothes and long hair and sideburns and said, 'What makes you think you belong on the Grand Ole Opry?' So I said, 'Well, I've got a record in the Top 10' ... I said, 'I think they'd like to hear me.'"
When Cash performed for the first time on the Opry stage, he was married to Vivian Liberto and the father of then-1-year-old Rosanne Cash. But it was that night's chance encounter with Carter, who had already become a member of the Grand Ole Opry as part of the Carter Family and was singing backup for Elvis Presley at the time, that changed the trajectory of Cash's life.
So the story goes, Cash told Carter that night that he knew he would marry her some day. In 1966, after Cash had three more children with Liberto, the two divorced; two years later, Cash proposed to Carter during a performance in London, Ontario, Canada, and they got married only a couple of weeks later.
In 2021, in celebration of the 65th anniversary of Cash and Carter's backstage meeting, the Ryman Auditorium hosted a pop-up exhibit featuring several Cash and Carter Family artifacts. "Johnny and June have such a strong connection to the Ryman, and we are excited to share these beautiful artifacts alongside the Johnny Cash Museum, which has the most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world," said Ryman General Manager Gary Levy.
Cash became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, but his ongoing battle with drugs and alcohol caused that relationship to be severed for a time. In 1965, while performing at the Opry while under the influence, Cash's behavior became so unruly that he was asked to never return.
"I don't know how bad they wanted me in the first place, but the night I broke all the lights on the stage with the microphone stand, they said they couldn't use me anymore," recalled Cash to CBS News. "So I left and used that as an excuse to really get wild and wound up in the hospital with my third time I broke my nose."
Fortunately, the Man in Black was eventually invited to return to the Opry, where he remained welcome until his death in 2003.
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