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(Credit: Dillan Stradlin)


Johnny Cash explains why he's the 'Man in Black', 1971


Johnny Cash answers the age-old question, why does the country legend always wear black? The iconic Cash would give the answer the only way he knew how; with a song.

During the singer’s Johnny Cash Show in 1971, the ‘Ring of Fire’ singer answered the question that had been pondered by most music fans when he performed a new track ‘Man in Black’.

The singer’s nickname had previously been assumed to have been in the reflection of his costume choices. But when the country gained himself a larger audience with his ABC show he decided to open up and share the deeper reasons for the colour choice through his new song.

On February 16th, 1971 at Nashville’s Columbia Studios Cash entered the studio to speak with the students of Vanderbilt University and address some of the issues broached in the song including the war in Vietnam, poverty and racial imbalance.

In the lyrics for the new song, ‘Man in Black’, Cash explained that choosing his bold fashion choice was a way of drawing attention to those and other issues. It was something Cash continued to explore during the show’s run and it quickly got the network executives hot under their perfectly starched collars. The final episode would come just over a month later on March 31st, 1971.

1971 was a busy period for the singer, he was still touring and performing wherever he went and was at the peak of his worldwide popularity. To add to that the star also had a new baby art home and his first film, A Gunfight with Kirk Douglas. During this hectic time Cash still found time to meet with Mike Douglas on his weekly show to fully explore the answer to the question.

When Douglas alongside James Brown, who was co-hosting the show, asked about his wardrobe, Cash says, “This sounds like just a record plug and it’s not… People were always asking my why I wore black. I’ve worn black basically ever since I’ve been in the music business. But I never did really answer the reporters when they asked that question.”

Though Cash’s silhouette may be lost to the background the message in the music shines a light, “We’re doin’ mighty fine I do suppose, in our streak-o’-lightning cars and fancy clothes/ But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back, up front there ought to be a man in black.”

Watch Johnny Cash explain why he’s the ‘Man in Black’, 1971

Source: Rolling Stone