When June Carter was born on June 23, 1929, in Maces Springs, Virginia, she was destined for a career in music. The daughter of Ezra and Maybelle Carter, the pioneering matriarch of the Carter Family, June was probably singing before she could walk. Of course, the Carter Family trio—which also included June’s uncle, A.P., and his wife, Sara—made some of country music’s earliest commercial recordings, beginning with a 1927 session in Bristol, Tennessee.
June began singing with the Carter Family at a young age. But by 1943, June had teamed with her sisters Helen and Anita, as well as her mother, to form Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. They joined Elvis Presley’s roadshow in the 1950s. June married country legend Carl Smith in 1952, but they divorced around the first time June met Johnny Cash backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956.
June joined Johnny’s touring troupe in 1961 and fell hard for the then-married singer. At the time, June was still married to her second husband, Rip Nix. Nonetheless, June and Johnny had fallen for each other by 1963. June and Rip divorced in 1966. Johnny ultimately divorced his first wife, Vivian Liberto, in 1966.
June and Johnny tied the knot in 1968, remaining married until June died in May 2003. Johnny died a few months later in September 2003. Of course, Johnny credited June with helping him end his drug abuse and develop his spirituality.
In honor of June’s birthday on June 23, let’s take a look at a few of her standout contributions to the country music canon.
‘Ring of Fire’
June is credited with co-writing the now-classic “Ring of Fire” about her forbidden love with Johnny in 1962. While the song’s origin is somewhat disputed by Johnny’s first wife, the tune has become a country music standard. Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters provided harmony vocals on Johnny’s 1963 single, which topped the Billboard chart for seven weeks.
After teaming with Johnny on the 1964 duet, “It Ain’t Me Babe,” June and Johnny joined forces for a full album in 1967, Carryin’ On With Johnny Cash and June Carter. The album’s lead single, “Jackson,” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The single also earned June and Johnny the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance (Duo/Trio/Group).
‘Keep on the Sunny Side’
Johnny and June won another Grammy Award in 1970 for their duet, “If I Were a Carpenter.” However, June Carter Cash also won three Grammy Awards for her solo work.
June’s 1999 album, Press On, was awarded Best Traditional Folk Album. June’s 2003 album, Wildwood Flower, which was released four months after her death, was named Best Traditional Folk Album. And her rendition of “Keep on the Sunny Side” was awarded Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Of course, the song was popularized in a 1928 recording by the Carter Family.