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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