Being the 37th President of the United States, getting the US out of the Vietnam War and stabilizing relations with China and the U.S.S.R., he was President when the United States landed on the moon (or faked it according to conspiracy theorists), and perhaps most famously… being the only President to resign after the notorious Watergate Scandal.
However, he was also known for bringing a number of musical acts to the White House.
The first President to visit the Grand Ole Opry, Nixon invited Merle Haggard to play at the White House, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and more… even the great Johnny Cash.
Although, Cash’s performance didn’t come without controversy.
In 1969, at the height of the anti-war movement, it was a time of political unrest, political division, and folks took to the streets for anti-war protests and demonstrations.
Nixon saw this unfolding and made a speech announcing that he was seeking to end the war.
And Cash, agreeing that the war should end, made an announcement on The Johnny Cash Show that he supported the President’s position on ending the war.
So shortly thereafter in 1970, Nixon invited Johnny and June Carter Cash to play at the White House, and needless to say, Johnny and June were pumped.
However, there was a catch…
Nixon, wanting to use Johnny, in a sense, to endorse his own political positions, requested that Johnny performed “A Boy Named Sue,” as well as Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” and Guy Drake’s “Welfare Cadillac.”
Of course, Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” whether sarcastic or not, was viewed as anti-hippie, anti-marijuana song that condemned counter culture, and “Welfare Cadillac” was viewed as making fun of anybody that needed welfare, the poor, and minorities.
The songs were politically charged, and no doubt, chosen to help align Nixon with the people of the South and “Middle America.”
However, Cash denied the request, saying he didn’t have enough time to learn the songs, considering they weren’t his, and according to the Richard Nixon Foundation, the real reason may have been because he wasn’t necessarily in support of the two songs’ messages.
While Cash supported Nixon and his position on the war, he was also decidedly pro Native American and pro prison reform.
Although, when Johnny and June Carter made their appearance, they made the most of it.
Despite Nixon’s request being denied, he had a sense of humor about it when he introduced Johnny:
“It’s rather hard to describe Johnny Cash in terms that are perhaps adequate, except for those who know his music. I’m not an expert on his music; incidentally, I found that out when I began to tell him what to sing.
But I do know that he was born in Arkansas, and he now lives in Tennessee, but he belongs to the whole country. The music that he represents tonight is called country music and western music.
But I think it’s really American music, because it speaks in stories about Americans in a way that touches the hearts of all Americans: North, East, West and South.”
President Nixon’s introduction:
Aside from playing “A Boy Named Sue” and a number of gospel songs, Cash played “What Is Truth,” a song that was pro youth and anti war.
At the end of Cash’s performance of the song, he sent a loud and clear message to Nixon:
“We pray, Mr. President, that you can end this war in Vietnam sooner than you hope or think it can be done, and we hope and pray that our boys will be back home and there will soon be peace in our mountains and valleys.”
American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam three years later.
“What Is Truth” Live from the White House 1970:
The story was also told on an episode of Netflix’s ReMastered Collection titled, Tricky Dick & The Man In Black.