On This Day: Johnny Cash Wins Lifetime Achievement Award at 1999 Grammys

by Clayton Edwards

Johnny Cash might be one of the most popular performers in country music. Fans of all genres of music can get into at least a handful of his songs. Punk rockers, metal-heads, and hip hop fans alike tend to respect Cash. The ability to cross genre lines and speak to people from all walks of life is rare. It’s just one of the plethora of reasons that Cash is an icon. In 1999, the Recording Academy recognized the impact of his career by presenting him with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

When you look at the list of people who have received the award, it’s clear that Johnny Cash fits perfectly among them. His fellow Lifetime Achievement Award recipients include legends like Roy Acuff, Joan Baez, The Carter Family, Merle Haggard, and so many more. The award is presented to artists who “Have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording,” according to the Grammy website.

Johnny Cash’s impact on music is immeasurable. Countless artists from a variety of genres cite him as an influence. He is like the epicenter of a musical earthquake. His aftershocks continue to shape the landscape of music even today. In short, few performers have had the impact that Cash had. Few people are as deserving of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Lasting Impact of Johnny Cash

Most country music fans can agree that Johnny Cash is great. He cut some killer songs and had an inspiring love story with June Carter. He was also an advocate for people in prison and Indigenous American rights. Cash released incredible albums until he passed away. However, he was more important than some people might realize.

Firstly, he is responsible for the rise of Merle Haggard. Johnny Cash famously performed behind prison walls for inmates. He even recorded a live album at San Quentin in 1969. However, his first concert in the legendary prison was in 1958. Among those gathered to see the Man in Black was none other than Merle Haggard.

Haggard was doing time for robbery. The 20-year-old outlaw had no real direction in his life. He had either been incarcerated or hopping trains for years. When Merle saw Johnny Cash perform, he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be up on that stage singing. So, he joined the prison’s country and western band. When Haggard got out of prison, he started working toward building a career in music. We wouldn’t have Merle Haggard without Johnny Cash.

We wouldn’t have The Highwaymen without Johnny Cash either. He wasn’t just in the group. He brought the group together. Waylon, Willie, and Kris traveled to Sweden to record a Christmas special with Cash. While there, they spent some time just hanging out and jamming together. Pretty soon, they decided to form a group. The result was the outlaw country supergroup the Highwaymen.

Those are just two examples of Johnny Cash’s influence. Both Haggard and The Highwaymen have influenced artists over the years. It’s impossible to imagine what country music would be without Cash.