April 17

Johnny Cash, From Country to the Capitol 49 Years Ago

Did you know that President Nixon was fond of Johnny Cash? Well, 49 years ago, Johnny Cash made one of the most memorable performances in his life. The Man in Black singer was asked to do a performance for the White House back on April 17, 1970.

The two knew each other through their mutual friend, Billy Graham.

johnny cash
via Screengrab from Youtube

A Misunderstanding between Cash and President Nixon

When hearing a request from the President, one would be a Yes-man. But, not for Johnny. The President requested for three songs to be performed. The first one would be Guy Drake’s “Welfare Cadillac,” Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” and Cash’s own “A Boy Named Sue.”

This was Johnny’s humble response:

“I don’t know those songs, but I got a few of my own I can play for you.”

During that time, the singer thought if the President knew of the message of the songs he requested. 

johnny cash
Photo Credits: Johnny Cash/Official Facebook Home Page

Being a country singer for the minority, the songs did not sit well with him. That’s because the message of the first two songs was about being anti-hippie and anti-black sentiment, as were written by Cash in his explanation.

Johnny Cash’s Performance

As he declined the two songs that were requested, he proceeded with performing his songs namely “What is the Truth,” “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “A Boy Named Sue.” This was a very bold choice for the singer especially for the first song because it was seen as a subtle attack to the President’s policies.

After days of the event, the press made a huge fuss about it. They even went on to caption the story as “Cash Tells Nixon Off.” Which is why Cash had to write an explanation of how it really went.

President Nixon did not take offense of the singer’s resistance and he even jokingly said to the White House audience:

“One thing I’ve learned about Johnny Cash is that you don’t tell him what to sing.”

This was a professional response coming from the President because he could have easily taken offense to it. But, he knows that the artistry of a singer comes from honest feelings. Kudos to the President and kudos to Johnny!

Click here to listen to the event:


Johnny Cash

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