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Today Marks 54th Anniversary Of Johnny Cash’s First Prison Show At San Quentin [VIDEO]

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

San Quentin, CA (WIBX) – The prison’s website boasts that it is now home to “the state’s only gas chamber and death row for all male condemned inmates,” but on January 1, 1958 the most famous California jail was known best for one of its visitors, country legend Johnny Cash.

Though he would return several times, Cash played San Quentin for the very first time to an audience that included the architect of the Bakersfield sound Merle Haggard.  In so doing he not only began to change not only social history but music history as well.

The 20-year old Haggard was then serving the second year of a 15-year sentence for burglary.  It was at least the third time Haggard had been jailed, but the first time he vowed to make it out – legally (he had escaped from jail once in his youth).  After seeing Cash’s performance Haggard became inspired to become a country singer.

Cash, who led a troubled life which included bouts with addiction, eventually used music to address social issues.  Having recovered from adversity himself, he believed that his songs, and “The Johnny Cash Show” (ABC) had the power to impact society.  He tackled not only the issue of prison reform but also politics in his songs and broadcast specials.  He spoke of the plight of Native Americans and the under-served in society.

Robin Jones, Hulton Archives via Getty Images

The show at San Quentin was well-received professionally and socially, and paved the way for subsequent prison performances that translated well into album sales and critical acclaim.

John R. Cash, born February 26, 1932, was married to June Carter Cash and between them they had seven children.  June died unexpectedly in 2003.  Johnny succumbed to complications from diabetes later that year, passing away on September 12, 2003.

Johnny and June leaving Kansas State Prison c. 1968 Photo Courtesy: Hulton Archive via Getty Images

 

 

Video from one of Johnny Cash’s performances at San Quentin appears below:

 

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