A new documentary film titled simply “June” seeks to shine a long-overdue spotlight on the incredible life and career of June Carter Cash, the music icon who stood alongside Johnny Cash as half of country music’s most powerful couple.
Premiering this week on Paramount+, the moving film traces June’s journey from her early days singing as part of country music’s legendary Carter Family to her rise as a solo star and influential songwriter in her own right.
Hardscrabble beginnings to Grand Ole Opry stars
Born Valerie June Carter in Maces Springs, Virginia in 1929, June was descended from a long line of country musicians. She made her first public performance at the tender age of 10 alongside her mother Maybelle and sisters Anita and Helen as part of the pioneering all-female country group Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters.
Through years of endless touring and performing on regional radio stations, the group’s original songs and Maybelle’s revolutionary “Carter scratch” guitar technique caught the attention of Nashville power players. In 1950, the Carter Sisters were invited to join the cast of the Grand Ole Opry – country music’s most prestigious stage.
Chart success leads to solo fame
As the Carter Sisters scored hit songs like “Midnight Train to Memphis” and “Cincinnati Dancing Pig,” June’s vivacious stage presence and songwriting talents pushed her increasingly into the spotlight. She landed solo record deals and made frequent appearances on the top TV variety shows of the day.
Her 1967 smash hit “Ring of Fire” showcased June’s songwriting at its peak. While the song was made famous by Johnny Cash (whom June married that same year), June had originally co-written the tune with Merle Kilgore. The song earned the writers a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
|Songwriting Hits from June Carter Cash
|“Ring of Fire” (with Merle Kilgore)
|“The Matador” (with Johnny Cash)
|“If I Were a Carpenter” (with Johnny Cash)
|“Where Did We Go Right” (with Merle Kilgore)
Midlife reinvention alongside Johnny Cash
After marrying Cash in 1968, June settled into semiretirement to focus on her role as wife and mother. However, Johnny coaxed her back into recording and touring throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Their joyous marital and musical partnership was on full display through hit albums, a top-rated TV variety show, and sold-out concerts where they traded vocals and locked into duets.
When Johnny’s career hit the skids in the late ’80s due to health issues and waning popularity, it was June who organized comeback projects like a collaboration with U2 and the all-star album “Rhythm, Country and Blues.” The projects reminded the world of her husband’s enduring talents and set the stage for one last creative peak with producer Rick Rubin.
Saving Johnny Cash
According to the documentary, director Matt Riddlehoover described June as “the guardian angel watching over Johnny.” From standing by his side during career droughts to saving him from a forest fire, June played a pivotal role in Cash’s longevity at times through sheer force of will.
Their son John Carter Cash is quoted in the film saying, “If Mom hadn’t stepped in there are many times Dad wouldn’t have lived.”
While Johnny remains an icon, June’s legacy is less vaunted in the public memory by comparison. Director Riddlehoover sought to amend that oversight with this film.
Through rare archival footage and insightful interviews with family and collaborators like Kris Kristofferson, Riddlehoover makes the case for June Carter Cash as a towering artist in her own right – one who influenced generations of musicians ranging from Bob Dylan to Elvis Costello.
While reviews have been mixed, most critics agree that the film succeeds in casting June as the fiery, resilient, vivaciously talented performer she was.
Respected film site CherryPicks raved that “‘June’ accomplishes the necessary task of giving June Carter Cash her due and placing her firmly into the public consciousness as the legend she always was. We should be grateful that the world now has this loving portrait immortalizing an authentic American great.”
Final years and posthumous tributes
Sadly, June passed away in May 2003 at age 73 following heart surgery – a scant four months before her beloved husband Johnny died at age 71. But in the years since, her towering presence has only grown in stature.
She was portrayed by Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon in the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” in a performance that finally brought June’s spirit and strength to a mainstream audience. Witherspoon took home an Academy Award for her empathetic portrayal that the real June surely would have approved of.
In 2021, June was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And now in 2024, this definitive documentary should shine an even broader spotlight on her creativity, resilience, and courage – the hardscrabble heart of an artist who stood shoulder to shoulder with greats like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan while nurturing Johnny Cash’s epochal career.
June Carter Cash remains a pioneer of gender, a survivor against the odds, and a symbol of love’s ability to fuel great art. This film ensures her story will continue inspiring future generations of performers everywhere.
The June Carter Cash documentary is currently streaming exclusively on Paramount+. Strong reviews and word-of-mouth could compel the streaming service to extensively promote the film across platforms in the coming weeks.
Based on demand, June could potentially receive a wider theatrical release. Director Matt Riddlehoover has expressed a desire to bring June’s story to the big screen for audiences everywhere.
Beyond the documentary itself, the film may ignite a new wave of interest in June Carter Cash’s seminal music catalogue. Streaming services and record companies could capitalize by re-releasing compilations of her hits along with previously unreleased outtakes and demos from her prolific 1960s songwriting peak.
Furthermore, Reese Witherspoon has hinted at potential interest reprising her Oscar-winning role as June in a biopic or sequel to Walk the Line now that this documentary has refocused attention on one of America’s most towering yet unsung musical icons.
One way or another, thanks to this lovingly crafted documentary, the legend of June Carter Cash will only continue building in the years ahead. The story of her indomitable spirit is too compelling and inspiring not to become cemented into the pantheon of American music mythology where she belongs.
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