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Valerie June Carter Cash (June 23, 1929 – May 15, 2003) was a singer, songwriter, actress, comedian and author who was a member of the Carter Family and the second wife of singer Johnny Cash. She played the guitar, banjo, harmonica, and autoharp and acted in several films and television shows.


Early life

June Carter Cash was born Valerie June Carter in Maces Spring, Virginiamarker to Maybelle Carter and Ezra Carter. She was born into country music and performed with the Carter Family from the young age of ten, beginning in 1939. In March 1943, when the Carter Family trio stopped recording together after the WBTmarker contract, Maybelle Carter, with encouragement from her husband Ezra, formed "Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters" with her daughters, Helen, Anita, and June. The new group first aired on radio station WRTDmarker in Richmond, Virginiamarker, on June 1. Doc (Addington) and Carl (McConnell)—Maybelle's brother and cousin, respectively—joined them in late 1945. June, then 16, was a co-announcer with Ken Allyn and did the commercials on the radio shows for "Red Star Flour", "Martha White," and "Thalhimers Department Store," just to name a few. For the next year, the Carters and Doc and Carl did show dates within driving range of Richmondmarker, through Virginiamarker, Marylandmarker, Delawaremarker, and Pennsylvaniamarker. June later said she had to work harder at her music than her sisters, but she had her own special talent—comedy. A highlight of the road shows was her "Aunt Polly" comedy routine. Carl McConnell wrote in his memoirs that June was "a natural born clown, if there ever was one." She attended John Marshall High School during this period.

In the late 1940s, Maybelle & The Carter Sisters, along with their lead guitarist, a young Chet Atkins, were living in Springfield, Missourimarker, and performing regularly at KWTOmarker. Ezra "Eck" Carter, Maybelle's husband and manager of group, steadfastly declined numerous offers from the Grand Ole Oprymarker to move the act to Nashville, Tennesseemarker, because the Opry would not permit Atkins to accompany the group onstage. Atkins's reputation as a guitar player had begun to spread, and studio musicians were fearful that he would displace them as a 'first-call' player if he came to Nashville. Finally, in 1950, Opry management relented and the group, along with Atkins, became part of the Opry company. Here the family befriended Hank Williams and Elvis Presley (to whom they were distantly related), and June met Johnny Cash.

With her thin and lanky frame, June Carter often played a comedic foil during the group's performances alongside other Opry stars Faron Young and Webb Pierce.

Career highlights

June Carter Cash is best known for singing and songwriting, but she was also an author, actress, comedian, philanthropist, and humanitarian. Director Elia Kazan saw her perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 1955 and encouraged her to study acting. She studied with Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Her acting roles included Mrs. "Momma" Dewey in Robert Duvall's 1998 movie The Apostle, Sister Ruth, wife to Johnny Cash's character Kid Cole, on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1997), and Clarise on Gunsmoke in 1957. June was also "Momma James" in The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James.

As a singer, she had both a solo career and a career singing with first her family and later her husband. As a solo artist, she became somewhat successful with upbeat country tunes of the 1950s like "Jukebox Blues" and, with her exaggerated breaths, the comedic hit "No Swallerin' Place" by Frank Loesser. June also recorded "The Heel" in the 1960s along with many other songs. She won a Grammy award in 1999 for her solo album, Press On. Her last album, Wildwood Flower, was released posthumously in 2003 and won two additional Grammys. It contains bonus video enhancements showing extracts from the film of the recording sessions, which took place at the Carter Family estate in Hiltons, Virginiamarker, on September 18-20, 2002. The songs on the album include "Big Yellow Peaches," "Sinking in the Lonesome Sea," "Temptation," and the trademark staple "Wildwood Flower."

Her autobiography was published in 1979, and she wrote a memoir, From the Heart, almost 20 years later.

Personal life

Carter was married three times and had one child with each husband. All three of her children would go on to have successful careers in country music.

She was married first to honky-tonk singer Carl Smith from July 9, 1952, until their divorce in 1956. Together they wrote "Time's A-Wastin'". They had a daughter, Rebecca Carlene Smith, aka Carlene Carter, a country musician.

June's second marriage was to Edwin "Rip" Nix, a former football player, police officer, and race car driver, on November 11, 1957. They had a daughter, Rosie, on July 13, 1958. The couple divorced in 1966. Rosie Nix Adams was a country/rock singer. On October 24, 2003, Rosie died on a bus from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1968, Johnny Cash proposed to Carter during a live performance in London, Ontariomarker, marrying on March 1, 1968. At Carter's funeral, her stepdaughter, Rosanne Cash, stated that "if being a wife were a corporation, June would have been a CEO. It was her most treasured role."

In 1967, the couple won a Grammy award in the Best Country & Western Performance, Duet, Trio Or Group (vocal or instrumental) category for the song "Jackson". In 1970, they won again in the Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal category for the song "If I Were a Carpenter".

John Carter Cash, born March 3, 1970, is the only child of Johnny and June Carter Cash. He is a songwriter and producer.

Carter was a longtime supporter of SOS Children's Villages. In 1974 the Cashes donated money to help build a village near their home in Barrett Town, Jamaica, which they visited frequently, playing the guitar and singing songs to the children in the village.


June Carter Cash died in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 15, 2003, of complications following heart valve replacement surgery, surrounded by her family and her husband of 35 years, Johnny Cash, who died on September 12, 2003. Both are buried in Hendersonville Memory Gardensmarker near their home in Hendersonville, Tennesseemarker. Her second daughter, Rosie Nix Adams, died on October 24, 2003, a month after her stepfather. In his book, Anchored In Love, John Carter Cash reveals that his mother was addicted to narcotics and severely overweight during the last decade of her life.


In 1999, she won a Grammy Award for her album Press On. Her last album, Wildwood Flower, was released posthumously in 2003 and won two additional Grammys. She ranked #31 in CMT's 40 Greatest Women in Country Music in 2002.

Film portrayal

June Carter was played by Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line, a 2005 biopic of Johnny Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix). The film largely focuses on the development of their relationship over the course of 13 years, from their first meeting to her finally accepting his proposal for marriage. Witherspoon's portrayal led her to receive many awards for her role, including an Academy Award for Best Actress and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Witherspoon also performed all vocals for the role, singing many of June's famous songs, including "Juke Box Blues" and "Jackson" with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash.



Year Album Chart Positions
US Bluegrass US Country
1975 Appalachian Pride
1999 Press On
It's All in the Family
2003 Wildwood Flower 2 33
Louisiana Hayride
2005 Keep on the Sunny Side: June Carter Cash - Her Life in Music
Church in the Wildwood: A Treasury of Appalachian Gospel
Ring of Fire: The Best of June Carter Cash
2006 Early June

Albums with Johnny Cash

Year Album Chart Positions
US Country US
1967 Carryin' On with Johnny Cash and June Carter 5
1973 Johnny Cash and His Woman
1978 Johnny & June
2006 16 Biggest Hits: Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash 26 126
June Carter and Johnny Cash: Duets


Year Song US Country
1949 "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (w/ Homer and Jethro) 9
1956 "Juke Box Blues"
1965 "It Ain't Me Babe" (w/ Johnny Cash) 4
1967 "Jackson" (w/ Johnny Cash) 2
"Long Legged Guitar Pickin' Man" (w/ Johnny Cash) 6
1970 "If I Were a Carpenter" (w/ Johnny Cash) 2
1971 "A Good Man" 27
"No Need to Worry" 15
1972 "If I Had a Hammer" 29
1973 "The Loving Gift" 27
1973 "Allegheny" (w/ Johnny Cash) 69
1976 "Old Time Feeling" 26
2003 "Keep on the Sunny Side"

See also


  1. June Carter Cash in the 1930 US Census.
  2. Bufwack, Mary. (1998). "Carter Sisters". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 85
  3. June. Johnny
  4. Capital News, June 2003.
  5. Downey, Ryan J. Country Star June Smith First Wife Carl Smith 73. 2003-05-15.
  6. Cash, John Carter. Anchored In Love. Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson, 2007.
  7. "The Reel Deal". December 2005. Retrieved on 2007-03-23.

  • Cash, June Carter. Among My Klediments. Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1979. ISBN 0-310-38170-3.
  • Dawidoff, Nicholas. In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music. Vintage Books, 1998. ISBN 0-375-70082-X.
  • McConnell, Carl P. A Brief History of My Family and an Autobiographical Sketch of My Musical Life. January 24, 1976. Background for liner notes for a Doc and Carl album recorded at Johnny Cash's Nashville studio.
  • Zwonitzer, Mark, with Charles Hirschberg. Will you miss me when I'm gone? : the Carter Family and their legacy in American music. New York Simon & Schuster, 2002.

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