She’s country music royalty, the eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, but don’t try to put Rosanne Cash in a box. She lives in Manhattan and forges a path that is uniquely her own. Born in Memphis but raised in California, she has lived in New York City for 30 years. She is known as one of the country’s preeminent singer/songwriters and has released 15 albums that have earned four Grammy awards and 12 more nominations. She is the author of four books and a New York Times essay about brain surgery to correct a congenital problem that almost cost her a career. She called it, Well, Actually, it is Brain Surgery. She has partnered or served as an artist in residence at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, San Francisco Jazz, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Library of Congress. In 2014, she was the recipient of the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts and despite her reluctance to call Tennessee home, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
Cash has been married to guitarist/ producer John Leventhal for more than 20 years and her 2014 album, The River and the Thread, a collaboration with her husband, is the result of a road trip the two took after Cash was asked to help Arkansas State University purchase and restore her father’s boyhood home. The project spoke to her and she and Leventhal used the trip to travel Highway 61 and see the South. Cash describes the album as “a mini-travelogue of the South and the soul.” The trip included visits to her father’s boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas; her own childhood home in Memphis, Tennessee; William Faulkner’s house; Dockery Plantation, in Cleveland, Mississippi, where Howlin’ Wolf and Charley Patton worked and sang; Natchez, Mississippi, the blues trail; and the Tallahatchie Bridge.
The River and the Thread was the number one album of 2014 on Americana radio and won three Grammy Awards. In a 2014 New York Times interview, Cash made clear that this album was a collaboration in every way. “I wrote 95 percent of the lyrics and John wrote 98 percent of the music,” she said. “The only time we ventured into each other’s realm was to complain. I was not very good in the real world until I met John. He’s very pragmatic, very rational. I still get into dangerous places and he’s helpful about pulling me out. My mind is like a cave sometimes. I can get too obsessive in a dark way. I have a hard time telling the difference between what’s real and not real, entertaining too much darkness. You know what helps, if he and I go to buy a refrigerator or to the post office together; I really value those things now, just creating normalcy.”
Cash released her most recent album, She Remembers Everything, in 2018. In a review in Rolling Stone, Will Hermes said that it “reminds us why she is one of the most ambitious working songwriters.” He noted that she remains hard to categorize, as befits a longtime resident of the melting pot that is New York. “The album’s dark lodestar is ‘This is My Least Favorite Life,’ a sweetly grim waltz with an eastern European lilt, Brechtian existentialism and a little Tom Waits-ian surrealism, conjuring an emotional dislocation that may feel right about now. But in her narrative hands, it’s comforting not to be traveling alone.”
Rosanne Cash’s birth could have been her destiny, but she has taken from it the parts that make sense and added the life she’s lived. The result is an artist who can be autobiographical in one song, political in another and contemplative in the next. She is a songwriter for whom the writer is as important as the song.