Every year as this award ceremony gets closer, we like to take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the iconic moments the show has brought us throughout its long history.
Who can forget Alan Jackson walking out during a Beyonce performance or Charlie Rich lighting John Denver’s Entertainer of the Year card on fire? What about Loretta Lynn becoming the first female to win Entertainer of the Year and Dolly Parton making Randy Travis blush by sitting on his lap?
While some of those moments are protest, some are funny, and some are iconic, there’s also been no shortage of emotional moments as well, and one of those occurred back in 1968 when Johnny Cash was accepting the Album of the Year award.
Cash had released At Folsom Prison in May of 1968 and it quickly became one of the best known albums of all-time. He recorded it live at Folsom Prison in California and it included iconic tracks like “Cocaine Blues”, “Long Black Veil”, “25 Minutes To Go”, and of course “Folsom Prison Blues”.
Johnny was a long time advocate for prison reform, and even though he never spent any time in prison himself (he did have some experiences in a jail cell, like when he was picked up at the Mexican border), he will forever be tied with the incarcerated community, especially Merle Haggard, who was in the audience during one of Johnny’s shows at San Quentin Prison.
As is still tradition, Johnny was due to make an acceptance speech after presenter Jeannie C. Riley called him up on stage, but this speech was done with a heavy heart.
Just 5 months before this win, Johnny’s longtime friend and guitarist Luther Perkins had passed away suddenly at the age of 40. He had apparently just returned from a fishing trip and had fallen asleep in his living room with a lit cigarette in his hand, although his family said he had stopped smoking for years at that point in his life. His niece awoke at 6am and found the living room on fire with Perkins collapsed by the door and nearly dead.
An ambulance rushed him to the hospital where he spent 2 days in intensive care, but too much damage was done and he sadly passed away.
Perkins had played with Johnny Cash since 1954 and appeared on almost all of his recordings, including At Folsom Prison.
It was clear that Johnny was still very much dealing with Perkins’ passing as he walked on the CMA stage, and while what he said wasn’t long or necessarily deep, it’s clear from his demeanor that it took a lot to even get that much out.
“I would like to say, first of all, thanks to the people that have supported me to make this possible, to Luther Perkins. Thank you.”
Few words, but the best intent.
The Man in Black is forever a legend, and those that helped him get there are just as legendary in their own right.