Rosanne Cash is a composer and singer-songwriter with nearly two dozen Top 40 hits, 14 Grammy nominations, and four Grammy Awards. She is also an author, whose 2010 memoir Composed garnered praise from critics and landed on The New York Times bestseller list. She is also a music community catalyst who often brings together giants of American roots music for various events and a valued voice in documenting modern music history.
The totality of her role as an artist, a woman, and the responsible courier of a storied cultural legacy means Cash is a rare artist with many outlets. All of these point toward the same end: Her belief that art and culture are a vital, shaping force in society.
Of Cash’s 21 Top 40 hits, 11 have reached Number One. The impact of her 39 singles across 14 albums has earned her a spot in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and a SAG/AFTRA Lifetime Achievement Award for Sound Recordings. Her unique artistic vision has been fully embraced by the Americana Music Association, which awarded her with a Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award in 2018. (Read a transcript of her brief acceptance speech here.) Cash is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music; a Smithsonian Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts; and the 61st Edward MacDowell Medal.
Her prose writing has also underscored her singular view of the role that music and art — and the people who make it — can play in our lives. She has been called upon to deliver commencement addresses and has published essays elucidating the value of music and the arts. In 2001 she wrote for Performing Songwriter magazine, “A great work of art will make me feel as if I have been asleep up until the moment of encountering it, and the awakening accompanies a fresh rush of passion for my own life.”
She has frequently performed for major events at Lincoln Center and has been chosen as artist in residence by SFJazz, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress, and Carnegie Hall. She is routinely tapped for films as a participant in documenting popular music, including numerous titles about Johnny Cash, the Carter Family, and other major figures. Ken Burns included her in several episodes of his sprawling Country Music documentary. And, due to her lifelong interest in science, she has appeared on numerous panels with celebrated neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, to discuss the relationship between music and the brain, among other things.
Her October 2017 op-ed for The New York Times, “Country Musicians, Stand Up to the NRA,” earned a response from Pitchfork, RollingStone, Billboard, and others. The piece, like several she has published since her anti-gun-violence speech to the Million Mom March in 2000, reiterated Cash’s position as one of very few popular singers with country music ties to confront the gun lobby. She joined voices with Mark Erelli and was instrumental in bringing other big-name artists along for his 2018 gun-control anthem, “By Degrees.” And into the complex, divisive social landscape of 2020, she released a rumination on our responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it, with “Crawl into the Promised Land.”
Also in 2020, Cash pulled together a panel featuring author/songwriter Alice Randall and activist/author Angela Davis for the Americana Music Festival and Conference. The discussion, titled “Love and Vigilance,” focused on the power of music as a tool for social change. Therein, Cash clarified the way she sees her role as a creative person. “How [do we] build community when the nation is so divided,” she asked Randall and Davis. “To me it begins with music and art.”
Portrait by Michael Lavine
“If world peace or some kind of healing of the Union happens, it’s not going to be because some politician has talked about it. It’s going to be because art and music intervened.”
-- Rosanne Cash, from Composed