When Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash were invited to the White House in April what he expected was an evening of light entertainment from the icon of country music. And he hoped to garner support for himself and for the Republic Party platform from Johnny’s millions of fans.
However, he made the mistake of not getting to know the Man in Black, his beliefs, his empathy, and his musical message.
According to reports, Johnny Cash was shocked when Nixon asked him to perform “Oakie from Muskokee” (an anti-hippie song written by Merle Haggard) and Guy Drake’s “Welfare Cadillac” (a song about a recipient of welfare who spends the money on a new Cadillac.) Nixon asked the country star to perform his hit, “A Boy Named Sue.”
That night, after Nixon and his approximately 250 guests took their seats, Johnny Cash began his show. He honored one of the president’s song requests by opening with “A Boy Named Sue.” Then, with Richard Nixon held captive by decorum, Cash began singing, “What is Truth”, a song Johnny Cash had written championing youth, freedom and peace. He continued the concert with “The Man in Black”, a song pronouncing his solidarity with soldiers, and with the sick and the lonely. He ended the concert with “The Ballad if Ira Hayes,” a song about the struggles of Native Americans.
Nixon sat looking uncomfortable, with a smile frozen on his face, while the rest of the audience clapped, sang along to Cash’s popular tunes, and enthusiastically applauded each song.
After the show, Johnny and June were given a tour of the White House by the Nixons who were, according to Johnny Cash, extremely welcoming and kind.
President Nixon might have had a better idea of what he was in for, had he been informed earlier that day, Cash testified in front of the Senate Committee on Prisons about the need to “treat prisoners like human beings” and to assure first time offenders that “somebody cares for him and he is given a fare shake.”
Johnny Cash was a man who stood up for what he believed, whether it was talking with prisoners in a State Penitentiary, speaking to a Congressional Committee, or performing for the President of the United States.