Johnny Cash’s First Performance of “Man in Black” at Ryman Auditorium in 1971

Johnny Cash’s First Performance of “Man in Black” at Ryman Auditorium in 1971

Johnny Cash proved a spokesman for all generations when he performed a special concert strictly for college students on Feb. 17, 1971, at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Johnny filmed portions of the concert for a special segment of his ABC television series, The Johnny Cash Show.

At one point, Johnny introduced a new song that he noted was inspired by a recent visit to Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“I talked with several of you. We asked each other a lot of questions,” Johnny said. “An idea for a song started brewing then.” Johnny proceeded to play the new tune, which he was performing for the first time. The song was “Man in Black,” a philosophical essay from Johnny that laid out his personal beliefs.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Johnny sang as the audience hung on every word. When the song lamented Each week we lose a hundred fine young men, a reference to the controversial Vietnam War, the line drew cheers and extended applause.

Johnny later released “Man in Black” as a single, and it became one of his signature songs as well as an enduring nickname.

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