June was born as Valerie June Carter in June 23, 1929 Maces Spring, Virginia. She was a singer, dancer, songwriter, actress, comedian and author who was a member of the Carter Family and the second wife of singer Johnny Cash. She played the guitar, banjo, harmonica, autoharp and acted in several films and television shows.
This multi-talented woman started early in the music business along with her mother Maybelle Carter and her sisters Helen and Anita. Together they formed “Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters”. Later on more members of June’s mother family joined the band.
Aside from her singing career, June was also a natural born comedian. She starred in commercials and comically introduced other bands into their shows. For a year the Carters drove from Richmond, Virginia through Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.
She did her best to try and attend school while on road trips. In 1950, the group became part of the Opry Company. Here the family befriended Hank Williams and Elvis Presley (to whom they were distantly related) and June came to meet Johnny Cash.
She studied with Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Her acting roles included Mrs. “Momma” Dewey in Robert Duvall’s 1998 movie The Apostle, Sister Ruth – wife to Johnny Cash’s character Kid Cole, on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman (1993-1997) and Clarise on Gunsmoke in 1957. June was also “Momma James” in The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James.
She had both a solo career and a career singing with both her family and later her husband. It was with Country tunes of the 1950s like “Jukebox Blues” and “No Swallerin’ Place” by Frank Loesser that she became known as a solo singer. She won a Grammy award in 1999 for her solo album, Press On. Her last album, Wildwood Flower, was released in 2003 and won two additional Grammys.
Carter was married three times and had one child with each husband. She was married first to honky-tonk singer Carl Smith from July 9, 1952, until their divorce in 1956. They had a daughter, Carlene Carter who later became a country musician.
Her second marriage was to Edwin “Rip” Nix, a former football player, police officer and race car driver on November 11, 1957. They had a daughter named Rosie on July 13, 1958. She too was a country/rock singer who sadly died in 2003 on a bus from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
Johnny Cash proposed to Carter during a live performance at the London Arena in London, Ontario finally marrying on March 1, 1968. Johnny Cash and June Carter won a Grammy award in the Best Country & Western Performance: Duet, Trio Or Group (vocal or instrumental) category for the song “Jackson”. In 1970 they won again in the Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal category for the song “If I Were a Carpenter”.
“What June did for me was post signs along the way, lift me up when I was weak, encourage me when I was discouraged, and love me when I felt alone and unlovable. She’s the greatest woman I have ever known. Nobody else, except my mother, comes close.” Johnny Cash in his autobiography
John Carter Cash was the son of Johnny and June Carter Cash and later found his career as a songwriter and producer. Around this time Jimmy Carter (later to become the US President) became closely acquainted with Cash and Carter and maintained their friendship throughout their lifetime. In a June 1977 speech, Jimmy Carter acknowledged that June Carter was his distant cousin with whom they shared a common patrilineal ancestor.
June Carter Cash died in Nashville, Tennessee on May 15, 2003 of complications following heart valve replacement surgery surrounded by her family and her husband of 35 years Johnny Cash who died four months later.
She was another remarkable woman who made a difference in many people’s lives. June was a supporter of SOS Children’s Villages.