Setlist History: Johnny Cash Grand Ole Tribute in 2003

Johnny Cash died of complications of diabetes in September 2003 at 71 years old after leaving the world an enormous catalogue of classic country, pop and gospel songs.

To celebrate his life and music, a large contingent of friends and peers performed at the Ryman Auditorium, once known as The Grand Ole Opry.

A television special titled Johnny Cash Memorial Tribute: A Celebration Of Friends and Family was recorded, appropo since Cash's variety show with debuted in 1969 was filmed there.

Singers from Sheryl Crow, Hank Williams Jr., Kris Kristofferson to Kid Rock gathered on November 10, 2003 and covered songs The Man In Black made famous, or in some cases, even more famous.

"Hurt," for example, had already been a hit for Nine Inch Nails, but when producer Rick Rubin, who had signed Cash when he had lost favor to major labels, recorded several albums worth of covers with the legend, the dark tune found a new light.

Each of their setlists can be found here.

The tribute kicked off with the Fisk Jubilee Singers doing "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down," the gospel classic often sung at funerals and wakes as it defiantly proclaims as soon as the angels come, the protagonist will rise up and go to Heaven.

The song has remained so popular WWE fans might even recognize it as the entrance music for The Undertaker.

Fisk is the historically Black college that have been home of the Jubilee Singers who have made their home at the Nashville school's Jubilee Hall since the 1850s.

In 2021 the Singers won their first Grammy. And in 2008 they recorded "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down" after the warm reception they had to the 2003 performance.

Rubin posthumously released Cash's version as the title track of American VI: Ain't No Grave in 2010 a few days before the singer's birthday.

A beautiful moment was when outlaw country legends Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and George Jones covered "Big River."

The tune is one Cash wrote in the 1950s when he was on Sun Records being produced by the great Sam Phillips. Strangely the single didn't come out until Columbia bought his contract from Sun and on this way out the Memphis label put together the 1958 compilation Johnny Cash Sings The Songs That Made Him Famous.

Funny thing about "Big River," even though he had a hit with it very early in his career, because of their non-stop touring, the Grateful Dead have performed it way more than Johnny ever did.

Look at all those jam bands who embraced this Sun Records classic that was originally recorded in the same studio Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison got their start.

If people were surprised by how well Cash covered Trent Reznor's "Hurt," imagine what organizers thought when Sheryl Crow said she wanted to take a stab at it for the tribute.

Fortunately her softer, straight ahead version did not let us down. It did not make us hurt.

Sad fact: Even though "Hurt" ended up being Cash's last smash hit, earning him awards and praise, because he recorded the song at 71 years old when he was quite ill, he never performed it live in front of an audience.

An interesting pairing that night was when Hank Williams Jr. and Kid Rock teamed up to sing "There Ain't No Good Chain Gang," another Cash hit he recorded with Waylon Jennings in 1978.

Even though it went to #2 on the Country chart, Cash only sang the song live eight times.

The first time he did it though was on the Grand Ole Opry stage for one of his TV special "Spring Fever that aired the spring of '78.

Sheryl Crow has two dates left on her schedule for 2023.

She has one show in the Bahamas with Lionel Richie and one gig in NYC. Get your tickets to those concerts on her website.

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Last updated: 15 Apr 2024, 07:07 Etc/UTC