Johnny Cash Sings “Man in Black” for the First Time, 1971

Recent­ly we fea­tured a video of Neil Young per­form­ing on The John­ny Cash Show in 1971. Today we bring you anoth­er extra­or­di­nary moment from the very same episode: John­ny Cash intro­duc­ing his now-clas­sic song, “Man in Black.”

It’s from a spe­cial called “John­ny Cash on Cam­pus” which aired on Feb­ru­ary 17, 1971. The per­for­mance was taped in front of an all-stu­dent audi­ence at the Ryman Audi­to­ri­um in down­town Nashville. A few days ear­li­er Cash had trav­eled across town to vis­it stu­dents on the cam­pus of Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty and, as he explains here in the intro­duc­tion, an idea began brew­ing.

1971 was a time of wide­spread stu­dent protests over the Viet­nam War and oth­er issues. The Kent State shoot­ings had hap­pened the year before. As a protest song, “Man in Black” shows Cash’s abil­i­ty to reach across gen­er­a­tions and appeal to audi­ences much wider than those usu­al­ly afford­ed to coun­try music.

When Cash first played the song at Ryman Audi­to­ri­um it was so new he need­ed cue cards to fol­low the words. The video offers a rare glimpse of an artist try­ing out a major work when the paint was still wet.

Relat­ed con­tent:

John­ny Cash: Singer, Out­law and, Briefly, Tele­vi­sion Host

The 1969 Bob Dylan-John­ny Cash Ses­sions: Twelve Rare Record­ings

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