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Music Memories: Happy Birthday, Rosanne Cash!

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash was born on May 24, 1955. Cash is a singer-songwriter who is most often thought of as a country artist, but her music includes elements of pop, rock, blues, and gospel.

Cash is the daughter of country legend Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian Liberto Cash. She was raised by her mother in Los Angles and Ventura after her parents divorced in 1966. She graduated from St. Bonaventure High, then spent two years on tour with her father as a backup singer.

Her earliest professional successes came through her father. Cash's first professional recording as a singer was "Broken Freedom Song" on Johnny Cash's 1974 album The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me; two years later, he recorded the song "Love Has Lost Again," Rosanne's debut as a songwriter.

Cash recorded her first album in 1978 for the German label Ariola. It was never released in the United States, but American music executives heard it, and it got her a contract with Columbia Records. She began working on her first album for Columbia with producer Rodney Crowell, a singer whose own recording career was just beginning; the two had been married in 1979.

Cash was pregnant with her first child when that album, Right or Wrong, was released, and not able to do much touring in support of the album. It sold well for a first album, though, and generated some minor hit singles.

Cash and Crowell moved to Nashville in 1981, and Cash's next album was her breakout. Seven Year Ache was a #1 country album that crossed over to the pop charts, and produced three #1 singles. It was the start of Cash's most commercially successful period; she had 11 #1 hits in the 1980s, four of them from her most critically acclaimed album, 1987's King's Record Shop.

three Rosanne Cash album covers

The 1990 album Interiors marked some important musical and personal changes for Cash. It was the first album she had produced herself, and the first on which she had written or co-written all of the songs. It was a bluntly honest look at a failing marriage, and it divided the critics, whose opinions ranged from "a masterpiece" to "maudlin."

Cash moved to New York in 1991, and she and Crowell divorced in 1992. Where Interiors had been about the ending of a relationship, Cash's next album, The Wheel, was about the beginning of a new one, with Cash's new songwriting, producing, and romantic partner, John Leventhal. Cash and Leventhal were married in 1995.

Cash was unable to sing for more than two years in the late 1990s, as she had developed a polyp on her vocal cords. She spent much of that time writing books—a short story collection, Bodies of Water (print); and a children's book, Penelope Jane (print). She also edited a collection of stories and essays by songwriters, Songs Without Rhyme (print).

In 2003, Cash was finally able to complete the album she'd begun working on before developing vocal problems, Rules of Travel. It included a duet with her father, Johnny, one of the last recordings he made before his death.

Johnny Cash and his second wife, June Carter Cash, both died in 2003, and Rosanne's mother, Vivian, died in 2005. It isn't surprising that Cash's 2006 album Black Cadillac is largely a reflection on death and loss.

Her next album was also strongly influenced by her father. When she was 18, Rosanne was given by her father a list of the 100 country songs he thought she needed to know to understand the genre. For her album The List, she recorded twelve of those songs.

Cash returned to prose writing in 2010, publishing a memoir, Composed (e-book | e-audio | print). She has continued to develop as a non-musical writer, contributing essays to collections on a wide range of subjects—New York, favorite books, Beatles songs, and significant pieces of clothing.

She has also contributed to several musical anthologies and tribute albums—a pair of Christmas albums, two collections of lullabies, and tributes in honor of The Band, Laura Nyro, Elton John, and her father. She also took part in the studio recording of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a musical written by Stephen King and John Mellencamp.

More of Cash's music is available for streaming or download at Hoopla and Freegal. Her 2016 conversation with songwriter/author Joe Henry is available as a podcast as part of the ALOUD Central Library Speaker Series.