A bona fide icon of American songwriting, Rosanne Cash is deservedly celebrated for many talents: her mastery of the storyteller's craft; a keen, empathetic ear; emotional nuance; and a solid sense of humor, just to name a few. Returning to the Rose Theater stage for the first time since 2005, Lincoln Center's American Songbook welcomes Cash on March 27 for what is certain to be a powerful performance.
Cash is a songwriter with a literary bent, having penned a memoir about growing up alongside the daunting legacy of her legendary father Johnny Cash and a book of short stories, as well as editing Songs Without Rhyme, a collection of fiction and essays by songwriters. She has contributed writing to the Oxford American and the New York Times on topics ranging from gun control and her own 2007 brain surgery to family yarns that evoke the South in vivid color. Celebrating the release of her Grammy-winning 2014 collaboration with her husband John Leventhal, The River and the Thread, she was in residence at the Library of Congress for a series of events, including a public conversation with U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, discussing lyrics and poetry as literary forms. Also in 2014, Cash headlined Lincoln Center Out of Doors' collaboration with the Nashville-based Americana Music Association, bringing her earthy and incisive lyricism to the city that the Memphis-born artist has called home since the '90s.
Cash first achieved prominence with the 1981 hit "Seven Year Ache," straddling the boundaries of pop and country. She distinguished herself quickly as an intimate, poetic writer exploring familiar themes like heartbreak with a fresh and candid sensibility. Possessed of one of the most expressive and affecting voices in American music, rich, warm, and low, she also proved an extraordinary interpreter—notably on her 2009 album The List, a collection of songs chosen from a list of one hundred important country songs given to her by her father. With that, the spotlight shifted to yet another of Cash's myriad areas of expertise: a historian of sorts and the investigator of her heritage, interpreting and carrying the torch for the music that made her and, in a way, made America, honoring its legacy and bringing it forward into the present day.
In an era that's seen a musician win the Nobel Prize for Literature, it would be inaccurate to say that an artist like Cash merely transcends the boundaries or the limitations of pop songwriting. Indeed, this gifted chronicler of American life is among those proving that it has none—with skills that reveal the vast depth of its capacity to touch our hearts and tell our stories, in all their complexity, with humor, honesty, and compassion.
Alison Fensterstock is a writer in New Orleans.
American Songbook Lead Support provided by PGIM, the global investment management business of Prudential Financial, Inc.