Entertainment, On A High Note

Johnny Cash Museum unveils new piece of history

Photo courtesy of PLA Media

The Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville has unveiled an exciting new artifact. The item now on display is the gold award plaque for Cash’s 1956 single “I Walk the Line,” certifying sales of one million copies. “I Walk the Line” marked The Man in Black’s first gold record as well as his first No. 1 single.

On hand for the special ceremony were Cash’s siblings Tommy Cash and Joanne Cash-Yates, along with Jerry Phillips, the son of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who produced the record. Sam Phillips had originally presented the gold plaque to Johnny Cash in 1956. The award had been in Johnny Cash’s possession until his death in 2003. During the past decade, it was auctioned off to several private collectors. But museum founder Bill Miller vowed to return the award to Nashville. “This is a piece we had to acquire, and return to its proper place, which is the Johnny Cash Museum,” Miller noted in a statement. Until now, it has never been on public display.

Bill Cody of WSM radio in Nashville hosted the unveiling event and gave a brief history of “I Walk the Line,” noting that Cash wrote it backstage at a 1956 concert. In the song, Cash was pledging his devotion to Vivian Liberto, his wife at the time. He played it for Carl Perkins, who encouraged him to use “I Walk the Line” as the title. Cash originally sang it as a ballad, but Sam Phillips insisted that the song needed to be more up-tempo.

Sun Records founder Sam Phillips with country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash as he gives him a framed record of the song “I Walk The Line” to commemorate a milestone in album sales which was released on May 1, 1956 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Colin Escott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“I Walk the Line” became a No. 1 country hit and peaked in the Top 20 on the pop charts. It stayed on the Billboard country chart for 43 weeks. Through the years, it has sold more than two million copies, and has been certified Double Platinum. Such acts as the Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton and Rodney Crowell are among many who have covered the song.

During the ceremony, Joanne Cash-Yates offered an interesting interpretation of the song. “I love the way he wrote it,” she said. “One of the things about that particular song is that I’m a gospel singer, and you can sing ‘I Walk the Line’ to the Lord. To me, it’s just his best.” Tommy Cash, the youngest of the Cash children, recalled that he was in high school when “I Walk the Line” was released. “The girls started paying more attention to me,” he quipped. He shared that his brother would be extremely grateful to have the award displayed in the museum.

“This has traveled around the world and now it’s home where we can all enjoy it,” Tommy stated. “I think Johnny would be thrilled.” He also alluded to his brother’s distinctive rendering of the song. “I’ve sung it many times,” said Tommy, a recording artist in his own right, “but nobody could sing it like Johnny did. It has three chord progressions and it’s one of the most unique melodies ever written.”

More than 60 years after its release, “I Walk the Line” is still an American standard. Fans can now enjoy a piece of its history at the Johnny Cash Museum, located at 119 Third Ave. South in downtown Nashville. For more information, visit the museum’s website.