June Carter Cash
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Popular

“All we Carter girls knew,” recalled JUNE CARTER CASH (1929-2003), “was getting up in the dark, showing up at the radio station, singing with sleep still in our eyes and starting the real day right after.” The other girls were Helen (1927-98) and Anita (1933-99); their parents were Ezra and Maybelle (1909-78); she one-third of the original Carter Family, the southwest Virginia trio comprised of her brother-in-law, A.P., and her cousin, Sara, who first recorded in 1927. A decade later in Del Rio, Texas — Sara and A.P. now divorced but still playing together — June joined the band and, after its 1943 break-up, Maybelle and the Carter Sisters carried on from Richmond, Virginia. In 1949, virtuoso guitarist Chet Atkins joined the group in Springfield, Missouri and moved with them to Nashville the following year. While June was a respectable singer (Anita was brilliant) and her summer 1950 single, “The Baldheaded End of the Broom” b/w “Root Hog or Die” an apotheosis of cornpone poetics, it was June’s energy, wit and lithe sexuality that made her a star. Fame was a whirlwind: Hank Williams nearly killed her while shooting at his wife Audrey; in ’52, June married new country sensation Carl Smith (below); and in ’56, Carters toured with 21-year-old phenom Elvis Presley. Later, June’s partnership with Johnny Cash (below) took her many places; their Folsom and San Quentin Prison albums are justly renowned; their trip to Israel, released as Holy Land, remains puzzling. Then there was “Singing In Viet Nam Talking Blues.”

JUNE CARTER AND CARL SMITH

JUNE CARTER AND JOHNNY CASH

SINGING IN VIET NAM TALKING BLUES

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Alan Turing, Joss Whedon, and Anna Akhmatova.

READ MORE about the Postmodernist Generation (1924–33).

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Historian, journalist, and poet Brian Berger is coeditor of New York Calling. He has written for many publications, a few of which even still exist.