Born June 23, 1929, in Maces Spring, VA; daughter of Ezra (a farmer) and Maybelle (a country singer and instrumentalist; maiden name, Addington) Carter; married Carl Smith (a singer; divorced); married Johnny Cash (singer-songwriter) March 1, 1968; children: (first marriage) Rozanna and Carlene; (second marriage) John Carter. Country singer, songwriter, and autoharpist, 1939--. With mother, Maybelle, and sisters Helen and Anita, performed as the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle c. 1943-69; appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry and on television. Group joined Johnny Cash's road show, 1961, and became regulars on Cash's television show, 1966. Solo performer c. 1955--. Actress and comedienne c. 1955-65. Has recorded albums with her family and as a solo artist, principally with RCA. Addresses: Record company-- RCA (Bertelsman Music Group), 1133 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.
June Carter Cash followed her mother, Maybelle Carter, into country music and has been performing virtually nonstop since she was ten years old. A second-generation member of the famous Carter Family, June has won a worldwide following for the traditional folk-oriented Appalachian sound of her forebears. By virtue of her marriage to country superstar Johnny Cash, she has brought mountain music to country and even blues and rock fans, thus assuring a continued interest in a rich musical heritage.
Two years before June was born in 1929, her mother, aunt, and uncle journeyed to Bristol, Virginia, to audition for record producer Ralph Peer. Peer, who also produced country legend Jimmie Rodgers, signed the trio to a contract, and the original Carter Family began to release songs on the Victor label. The Carter Family's repertoire consisted primarily of Blue Ridge Mountain ballads, sung in three-part harmony with sophisticated acoustic accompaniment. Maybelle Carter, known to country fans as Mother Maybelle, took the alto part in most of the recordings, and she picked both guitar and autoharp. Throughout the 1930s the Carter Family recorded together regularly, even though its members had to supplement their musicians' incomes by working in factories and on farms.
June was born and raised in her father's hometown of Maces Springs, Virginia. Her father, Ezra Carter, was a farmer. The success of the Carter Family occasioned frequent travel, and by the time she was ten June was no stranger to the road. She began to perform with her famous family in Texas on a powerful border radio station in 1939. By the time June joined the Carter Family on the airwaves, several other second-generation Carters were already included in the group. The younger Carters--June, her sisters Helen and Anita, and a cousin, Janette Carter--often performed novelty songs and popular 1930s hits in their portion of the radio show, while their parents adhered to the traditional Appalachian folk music that had brought them renown.
The original Carter Family disbanded in 1943. Maybelle, arguably the most talented picker in the group, recruited her daughters and formed a new act, the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle. This reconstituted Carter Family played both traditional and novelty songs, and soon they earned a spot on WRVA's Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Virginia. From there they moved to WSM in Nashville, becoming regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. In an essay for Stars of Country Music, John Atkins wrote: "Where the original [Carter] family had never veered from their own tradition, Maybelle and the girls made every effort to keep up with the many changes and developments in Nashville and in country music generally. In short, they were shrewd enough to always retain a number of the family's original songs in their program, and yet at the same time they were prepared to compete with anyone around to gain their share of success and fame."
By the mid-1950s, June Carter was an established figure in Nashville. Most critics agree that her sister Anita showed more vocal talent, but June sometimes stole the show with her comedy, her picking ability on autoharp, guitar, and banjo, and her vivacious good looks. Eventually she decided to pursue a solo career in dramatics. She studied acting in New York City briefly, and she won guest appearances on such television shows as Jim Bowie and Gunsmoke. Having married Nashville crooner Carl Smith, she returned to singing by the late 1950s and worked as a solo act or with her family.
In the 1960s the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle joined the entourage of superstar Johnny Cash. The group travelled across the nation with Cash, opening for him and occasionally joining him onstage for encores. June was particularly drawn to the troubled young star who was struggling with drug abuse and antisocial behavior. She wrote or co-wrote songs for him, providing him hits in "Happy to Be with You," "Jackson," and "Guitar Pickin' Man." In turn Cash featured June and her sisters on his television variety show, a favor that widened the women's audience considerably. June Carter married Johnny Cash in 1968 after Cash underwent rehabilitation for his substance abuse. They have been together ever since and have a son, John Carter Cash.
Johnny and June Carter Cash still perform as a duo, but they also continue to pursue separate careers. Even after her marriage, June teamed with her sisters for numerous tours in America and Europe. On one such tour, in 1986, June's daughter from her first marriage, Carlene, stood in for Anita Carter in a London concert. Thereafter, Carlene Carter joined the family group. June is particularly proud that her daughter has shown an interest in the traditional Carter Family music and a desire to incorporate that style into her own work.
Singer, songwriter, and--some say--savior of the willful Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash is a reigning queen of country music. The dedication June and her sisters have shown to the original Carter Family music has kept a valuable national resource--Appalachian balladry--in the public eye. Although she is equally at home with standard country fare, and is even an engaging comedienne, June has earned significant praise for keeping faith with tradition--and for passing it on to those who follow her.
by Anne Janette Johnson
June Carter Cash's Career
- Selective Works
- The Carter Family on Border Radio, John Edwards Memorial Foundation.
- Keep on the Sunny Side, Columbia.
- Three Generations of the Carter Family, Columbia.
- Wildwood Flower, Columbia.
- With Johnny Cash Jackson, Columbia, 1970.
- Give My Love to Rose, Harmony, 1972.
- Johnny Cash and His Woman, Columbia, 1973.
- Malone, Bill C., Country Music U.S.A., revised edition, University of Texas Press, 1985.
- Malone, Bill C., and Judith McCulloh, editors, Stars of Country Music, University of Illinois Press, 1975.
- Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music, St. Martin's, 1969.
- People, November 12, 1990.