Johnny Cash receives 2002 ‘Spirit of Americana’ free-speech award

Monday, September 16, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Music icon Johnny Cash has received the 2002 “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award, presented last night by the First Amendment Center in partnership with the Americana Music Association, during the association’s first annual awards program.

Cash, whose work spans more than 40 years and a variety of musical genres, television and film, was cited for his lifelong commitment to free expression in music. He has recorded more than 1,500 songs, on more than 500 albums, with diverse themes and lyrics that range from Gospel music to independence, prison life, murder, patriotism and Native American rights. Cash also has recorded a variety of music — sometimes defying commercial interests in the record industry — and has provided inspiration and support to other artists.

The forthright musician has long been an advocate on behalf of the oppressed, downtrodden and disenfranchised. He has frequently spoken out against injustice and the need to protect fundamental rights.

“The award honors those who use their music to make a difference, lending a voice to those who would otherwise go unheard and shining a light on issues that would otherwise go unseen,” said Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center.

“As Johnny Cash acknowledged in his autobiography, his groundbreaking concept albums ‘brought out voices that weren’t commonly heard at the time – voices that were ignored or even suppressed in the entertainment media, not to mention the political and educational establishments.’ ”

“At a time when so much of the music industry is preoccupied with making a buck, the Spirit of Americana award honors those who use their music to make a point,” Paulson said.

This is the first year the “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award has been presented. The First Amendment Center also salutes artists for support of free speech in other areas of the arts, including the annual “Freedom in Film Award,” presented this year to outspoken actress and activist Susan Sarandon.

J.D. May, executive director of the Americana Music Association, said the association “is thrilled that the First Amendment Center decided to help create this meaningful award to recognize free speech. And who better to be the first recipient than Johnny Cash, who has embodied the spirit of free expression and Americana music throughout his career?”

The recipient of the “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award had not been announced prior to the program. Cash later closed the AMA awards program with a performance onstage with his wife, June Carter Cash, a music star in her own right and a part of one of country first recording groups, the Carter family.

Cash is the youngest person chosen for the Country Music Hall of Fame and along with Elvis Presley is the only artist to be in both the Country and Rock ‘N Roll Music Halls of Fame. Winner of 11 Grammies (1999 – Lifetime Achievement; 2002 – Best Country Album), he has placed 48 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop charts and sold more than 50 million records throughout his career.

In addition to the “Spirit of Americana” and “Freedom in Film” awards, First Amendment Center initiatives involving free expression include the weekly national public television program “Speaking Freely,” hosted by Paulson. The weekly program features discussions with songwriters, playwrights, actors, authors and others. Earlier this year, the center joined with the annual Comedy Arts Festival, in Aspen, Colo., to recognize George, Carlin, the Smothers Brothers, Dick Gregory and Bill Maher for their support of free expression in comedy.

Media contact: Gene Policinski, 615/727-1303

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