On This Day: Johnny Cash Was Awarded National Medal of the Arts by George W. Bush in 2002

by Clayton Edwards

As country music fans, we know how important Johnny Cash is to the world of music. It has been a little over seventeen years since we lost the Man in Black. However, his influence is still alive and well in country music. New listeners are discovering his work and being influenced by it all the time. At the same time, Cash has such a huge body of work that fans can almost always find a track that they hadn’t heard before. In short, he was and is one of the most important artists in modern history.

Johnny Cash won several Grammys, CMA Awards, ACM Awards, and several other trophies. But, we don’t fully speak to his importance and influence as an artist. Nor do we need them to know how great he was as a singer and songwriter. His legacy and the artists that follow in his footsteps do that better than any award could. However, it’s nice to see someone with his caliber of talent recognized by his peers. However, in 2002, a little over a year before his tragic passing, Cash was awarded one of the highest honors that an American civilian can get.

Johnny Cash Receives the National Medal of the Arts

On this day in 2002, Johnny Cash was awarded the National Medal of the Arts. Now, that is a big deal. It’s the highest honor that an artist can get from the United States government. To make it even better, George W. Bush, who is known to be a country music fan, placed the ribbon around Cash’s neck.

The National Medal of the Arts is awarded to those who are deserving of, “special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States,” according to the National Endowment for the Arts. If anybody out there fits that description it is Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash wasn’t just a great country music artist. He blended elements of several genres into his own distinct sound. Throughout his catalog, you can hear shades of blues, gospel, rockabilly, folk, and rock and roll as well as a heavy country music influence. He was a consummate American musician. We country fans are just lucky enough to call him our own.

Johnny Cash’s contribution to country music alone would be enough to warrant such an award. He was the reason that The Highwaymen formed, after all. However, his widespread influence can be seen in those who have taken to the stage to pay tribute to him.

In 1999 An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Cash aired on TNT. The concert event featured several country artists including fellow Highwaymen Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. However, several non-country acts took the stage to pay tribute to the Man in Black as well. Among those were Bob Dylan, Chris Isaac, Wyclef Jean, and U2.

Johnny Cash was a rare talent. His influence will echo through the music world for as long as people have ears.