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Rosanne Cash shares her memories and music

The singer-songwriter talks with NBC's Dawn Fratangelo about her new album, “Black Cadillac,” and the incredible loss that compelled her.
/ Source: TODAY

Rosanne Cash is an award-winning singer and songwriter. She also just happens to be the daughter of Johnny Cash. While the movie about hislife, “Walk the Line,” is getting critical acclaim, so, too, is Rosanne's new album, “Black Cadillac.” NBC's Dawn Fratangelo sat down with the singer.

“It was a Black Cadillac that drove you away ...”

A music legend's final ride.

“Now everybody's talking but they don't have much to say.”

For Rosanne Cash, the car carried someone more precious — her dad, Johnny Cash, who died in September 2003.

“One of us gets to go to heaven, one has to stay here in hell.”

Rosanne Cash: I mean, there's a lot of anger in that song.Dawn Fratangelo: In what way?Cash: Well, I was anticipating the public appropriation of grief, that, you know, my father being such a public figure and so beloved. And having shared him my whole life, I didn't wanna share him then.

What Cash is sharing is a new collection of songs about a personal journey of loss. Not only of her father but her stepmother, June Carter. And, on Rosanne's 50th birthday, her mother, Vivian Libreto — Johnny's first wife.

Fratangelo: You lost three parents over two years. And you say that you couldn't avoid these songs.Cash: No, I couldn't have avoided them. They had a compelling force, these songs. They were irresistible and they were not to be [laughter] ... denied.

The oldest child of Johnny Cash started writing songs as a teenager, while touring with Johnny and June. But she was ambivalent about performing and the public life that comes with it. When she did decide to take the plunge, she first had to pass a test from the ultimate teacher — her father.

Cash: He gave me a list of 100 essential country songs. He wrote it on the bus. He said, “You need to learn this list of songs. You need to learn all of these songs for your education to be complete.” [Laughter] And — I did.

It is a solid foundation of American music ...

“I'm so lonesome I could cry” ... “Hey porter, hey porter.”

... that Cash has been building for 30 years now. With a Grammy and 11 number one country hits ...

“Tell me you're trying to cure the seven-year ache, see what else your old heart can take.”

... hers was a career in full country swing. Then, in the early 1990s, Cash left Nashville ...

“Seventh avenue ...”

... for New York.

Since the move she has been making her mix of country, folk and pop, mostly with husband and producer John Leventhal. He convinced her to do what she'd never done ...

“September when it comes...”

... record a duet with her father — a year before his death.

“September when it comes...”

“I cannot move a mountain now, I can no longer run.”

Fratangelo: What is that for you now?Cash: It is the ultimate family snapshot — that generations beyond me will hear and enjoy.

The snapshots most have of her family these days are from the movie “Walk the Line.”

[From “Walk the Line”] “Good night, Rosanne.”

Cash has seen the film but says she can't be objective.

Cash: It's — it's about some very painful parts of my childhood, you know? The breakup of my parents' marriage, my father's drug addiction — it's not entertainment to me.

Some critics call the new album her best work. From her greatest loss ...

“From my future, from your memory ...”

Rosanne Cash adds brilliantly to that list of essential American music.

“This message will not end.”