At a time when mass protests are lining the streets of Hong Kong to London, from subjects varying from climate change to civil rights, we take a step back in time to revisit Johnny Cash’s protest song ‘Man in Black’.
The song, originally released on his 1971 album of the same name, the lyrics are damning protest statement against the Vietnam war, the treatment of poor people by wealthy politicians, the mass incarceration of thousands of people and more.
In the creation of the song Cash had revealed that a conversation with some of the audience members from Vanderbilt University had inspired the writing of the track and, while performing at the Ryman Auditorium of that same university, Cash sang the song live for the very first time.
“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, living in the hopeless, hungry side of town,” Cash sings on the song. “I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime but is there because he’s a victim of the times,” he continues.
When asked about his wardrobe choice as part of an interview with the popular Mike Douglas Show in the year the record was released, Cash responded: “This sounds like just a record plug and it’s not… People were always asking me 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.”
Here it is, the first live performance of the song: