Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Country music legend

June Carter Cash dies at 73

 

MACES SPRINGS - Scott County native and country music entertainer June Carter Cash, 73, passed away Thursday afternoon following complications from heart surgery.

     Cash had undergone surgery May 7 to replace an aortic valve. Complications arose from the surgery one day later, and Cash was listed in critical condition at Baptist Hospital in Nashville until Thursday, when her manager released a statement informing reporters of her death.

     "Entertainer and beloved wife of Johnny Cash, June, passed away at 5:04 p. m., Central Time," read the statement from Lou Robin, who has served as the couple's manager for years.

     Daughter of country music pioneer Mother Maybelle Carter, June Carter Cash was born on June 23, 1929, in the community of Maces Springs near Hiltons, where she attended school up until her sophomore year of high school at Hilton High, when she and her family moved to Charlotte, then Richmond.

     Rita Forrester, executive of the Carter Fold in Hiltons, said Scott County and the family June held dear were huge influences on her life and the person she became.

     "No matter how far away she would go away from (Scott County), she always, always considered Maces Springs home," said Forrester.

    "Her grandmother, Mollie, was a huge influence in her life. While her mother would be away - perhaps playing music somewhere - June would stay with her, and she made sure that June and her sisters were brought up with Christian values.

     "Her faith was unwavering. I think it was those trips to the Mount Vernon Church with Mollie that not only shaped her faith in God, but was also the place where she honed her musical talent by singing hymns."

     And She attended those church services with her two sisters, Helen and Anita, who would later be her touring partners, along with her mother all across the country.

     Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters toured radio station after radio station in the United States, playing the traditional music that had been practiced time and time again in the valley of Hiltons through the 1940s and 1950s, said Forrester.

     The sisters became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry, which would be the first meeting place between June and her future husband, Johnny Cash. "June had studied to be an actor and had met such stars as James Dean and others. You would think someone like James Dean would steal her heart, but it was Johnny," said Forrester.

     "It was 1956 when they first met backstage at the Opry. Even though both were married at the time, rumor has it or so I'm told - that Johnny made the comment that 'I'm going to be with that lady someday.'

     "If any woman could have a perfect husband, it would be John. He literally worshiped" the ground June walked on. The love they shared is the love they write love stories about. June was his rock."

     Forrester told a story about June's love of antiques that explained Johnny's endearing commitment to her happiness. "Johnny made the comment that June had bought so many antiques over the years that they could barely walk around their home in Hendersonville," Forrester said.

     "However, whenever June would go to an antique shop, she would have to borrow a truck from someone to haul things in, especially when they would come back here to Southwest Virginia.

     "Johnny said he was tired of June having to borrow a truck, so he had someone take him down to King Ford in Gate City and bought her a truck on the spot. He never wanted her to do without."

     Johnny and June spent several months out of the year at the Carter home place and. During the 1970s and 1980s they made an annual trek from their home near Nashville to perform a benefit concert at the Carter Fold, a musical performance center located in Hiltons that strives to preserve the traditional music that June's mother and A. P. and Sara Carter made famous.

     "We never once asked them to come and do those shows. That was something they decided to do on their own as a way to give back to the region and the music they loved," said Forrester.

     The couple recorded together and wrote songs together, including one of Cash's signature songs, "Ring of Fire."

     Those acting lessons that June took finally shined when she appeared in "The Apostle" with Robert Duvall in 1998 and then made an appearance on the critically acclaimed television show "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman."

     The Cashes made their last appearance at the Carter Fold in June 2002 as a birthday celebration was held in honor of June. The celebration was attended by a crowd ranging in the hundreds and featured acclaimed actor and director Billy Bob Thornton.

     Birthplace of Country Music Alliance Executive Director Bill Hartley said Thursday night that no better tribute could have been done for June than the one that took place on the BCMA's Pickin' Porch, a traditional country and bluegrass show that takes place every Thursday night inside the Bristol Mall.

     "That was just so ironic. Someone came to me and told me of June's passing, and right when they told me that, one of the Carter Family's songs was being performed on stage," said Hartley.

     "That's what is going to be so hard - knowing June is not going to be here anymore. But it is also comforting to know that the music she and her family made will live on forever. "This is such a deep tragedy for the region and for the music industry. Her influence and her family's influence on country music is profound, and like her many fans, I will miss her."

     Besides having a knack for singing, her comedic moments on stage were something special as well, said Forrester.

     "Calling June a firecracker on stage was an understatement. Her energy on stage was something to just behold," she said. "She used to alway.., joke when she was here at the Fold on stage. She would find a man out in the audience and accuse him of trying to look up her dress. "She would make some comment like 'Hey buddy, you just paid to see one show today, not two.' That was June, with that smile and that laugh. I think that is what I will miss most."

     In recent months and years, June had also helped in the care of her husband, who has been suffering from a disease that attacks the neuromuscular system of the body called Shy-Drager Syndrome.

     Forrester also talked about the years when June helped Johnny deal with and conquer his addiction to drugs.  "(Johnny) credits June and other members of her family with saving his life," she said. "There again, it was her faith in God that helped her and Johnny through those times. It was their faith in God that kept them together."

     Up to the point of her death, June was recording tracks for a new compact disc that was to be released either later this year or in early 2004.

     The release was to be a follow-up to her CD titled "Press On," which Forrester said gained positive reviews from music critics worldwide, ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times.

     While some of the tracks had been laid down in Nashville for the new CD just a few weeks ago, some were recorded inside the Carter home place earlier this year in Poor Valley, a property that June and Johnny acquired several years ago.

     "That gave her such peace, knowing that the home place would be staying in her family. There are many memories in side and around the walls of that place," said Forrester.

     "That was the thing about June. She never got away from the way of life that she knew growing up in Hiltons, and I think she never wanted to get away from that. She cherished that life.

     "It is amazing to just think about how many lives she touched. It crosses all kinds of barriers, from political figures to royalty, but she never forgot where she came from."

Forrester said the family would possibly ask Billy Graham to officiate at June's service, but that would depend on Graham's health.

     A statement released late Thursday by Baptist Hospital said funeral services will be private.

     Near the homeplace that stands in the shadows of Clinch Mountain stood a sign, surrounded by flowers, that had been erected to honor one of Hiltons' favorite daughters.

"WE LOVE YOU JUNE," the sign read.

     Friday was a day of reflection for Salyer, Cash's first cousin, as other family members prepared in Hendersonville, Tenn., near Nashville, for the entertainer's memorial services and funeral this weekend.

     According to published reports from Nashville and from Johnny and June Cash's agent Lou Robin, two memorial services had been scheduled for June Carter Cash, one on Friday evening and the other to be held tonight from 6 to 8 p. m. at the Hendersonville Funeral Home.

     The reports also stated that Cash's funeral, which was first reported to be a private family service, would be open to the public at the request of Johnny Cash and would begin at 2 p. m. Central Daylight Time Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Hendersonville.

     Following that service, Cash is to be laid to rest in a Hendersonville cemetery where members of her family are buried, including her sisters Helen and Anita and her mother, Maybelle, and her father, E. J.

     Cash, 73, had been married to Country Music Hall of Fame member Johnny Cash for 35 years. Johnny was at June's bedside when she passed away at 5:04 p. m. CDT Thursday.

     Besides being a Grammy award-winning artist who toured with Elvis Presley at one time, June was also an accomplished actress who studied in New York and starred in such television series as "Gunsmoke" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and had a role in the 1997 film "The Apostle" with Robert Duvall.

     Salyer stated that June always referred to her as "a soul sister" and told Salyer as the two grew up in Hiltons that she would one day go to far-off places and meet important people.

     "I knew June all of my life, and I knew that she was a special person. She was always concerned for the well-being of others and would give of herself in the effort to help someone."

     That rare quality of giving was witnessed firsthand by Salyer when she and Cash were visiting New York City last year and went to see the movie "The Rookie," starring Dennis Quaid.

     "She wanted me to see this movie because she said Dennis was a good friend of hers," Salyer said. "As we were getting ready to go in, she sees this older lady standing near the movie theater and she looked as if she didn't have very much.

     "A lot of people would have paid no attention to that lady at all, but June goes over to her and said, 'Honey, are you going to the movie?' And the lady said yes and wanted to know how much it cost."

     "At that point, June thought the lady needed money for the movie, so June tells her, 'Honey, I'm going to buy your ticket.' The lady said she had enough money for a ticket, but June insisted and told her, 'I know you have enough money, but I want to do this for you.' That was June," Salyer added.

     The Carter Fold, a performance complex in Hiltons dedicated to preserving the old-time music made famous by June's mother, Maybelle, and A. P. and Sara Carter, will go on with its usual schedule of musical performances tonight in honor of June.

     "I think she would have wanted it that way. Even though (Janette) and some of the regulars won't be there, it will be an evening filled with the music that June cherished," said Rita Forrester, Carter Fold executive.

     Pastor Will Shewey of the Hiltons United Methodist Church remembered Cash as an easygoing, unique and talented lady who will be sorely missed by everyone in the Scott County community.

     "I and many others are very saddened because not only have we lost a friend, but we've also lost a part of history," said Shewey. "She was a part of this community's history and the history of the world for the many talents she had. We feel we have lost a friend. "If you ever knew her it was to be a friend. I think she was a friend to everyone she met. To be in her presence, she was very humble. She never forgot where she came from."

     Shewey was also pastor for a time at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, the place of worship that Cash called her "home church." Cash recently purchased a sign that was placed in front of the church in honor of the dwelling's lOOth anniversary.

     As a tear streaked Salyer's cheek, she recalled a conversation held not too long ago with June that personified the entertainer's faith in God. "We were walking one day, and she looked up at the clouds and she said to me, 'Fern, look at those clouds. One day we are going to be floating above those clouds when the Lord calls us home,' " said Salyer. "She also said, 'I cannot wait to see the kingdom and all of those who have gone on before us. What a glorious time that is going to be.' "

 

 

June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash are shown in this April 29,1988, file photo taken in London. June Carter Cash, a Scott County native, died Thursday at a Nashville hospital.

 

June Carter Cash and husband Johnny Cash sing at Radio City Music Hall in New York in this 1985 photo. June Carter Cash died Thursday of complication from heart surgery. She was 73. Cash died at Baptist Hospital in Nashville with her husband and family members at her bedside, manager Lou Robin said.

 

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