June Carter Cash Distinguished Herself as a Team Player

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June Carter — who was born 90 years ago Sunday (June 23) — seemed destined to live out her artistic life as a team player. Born into the fabled Carter Family triumvirate that included her mother, Maybelle, June gained her highest visibility recording and writing songs with others.

After the original Carter Family disbanded in 1943, Maybelle retired briefly but soon formed another act with her daughters June, Anita and Helen. Through the mid-to-late 1940s, Maybelle and the Carter Sisters performed on the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Va., the Tennessee Barn Dance in Knoxville, Tenn. and the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Mo. They joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1950. Apart from singing and playing in the group, June also did cornpone comedy skits.

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As a recording artist, Carter first charted in 1949 with fellow comics Homer & Jethro in a parody of Frank Loesser’s pop hit, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It went to No. 9. Her subsequent chart records would be either with Maybelle and the Carter Sisters or with Johnny Cash, whom she married in 1968.

With Cash, Carter scored the Top 5 hits “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Jackson” and “If I Were a Carpenter,” the last two of which won vocal duo Grammys. Their raucous “Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man” netted them a No. 6.

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As a songwriter, Carter was best known for “Ring of Fire,” a co-write with Merle Kilgore, which Cash took to No. 1 in 1963 and now lodges in the Grammy Hall of Fame. “The Matador,” which she wrote with Cash, climbed to No. 2 that same year. With her sisters Anita and Helen, she wrote “Rosanna’s Going Wild,” a No. 2 for Cash in 1968.

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Married to Grand Ole Opry star Carl Smith from 1952 to 1956, Carter recorded with him the 1954 single, “Love Oh Crazy Love,” which did not chart. Neither did “Green Acres,” her 1966 recording with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs.

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Carter and Smith’s daughter, Carlene, who adopted the Carter surname, flourished briefly as a recording artist in the 1990s. Her and Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, is best known as a record producer.

Carter, who studied drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, stood out as a solo talent primarily through her acting roles in such movies as The Apostle and The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James and the TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Little House on the Prairie.

June Carter Cash died in 2003 at the age of 73. Johnny Cash died four months later at 71.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.