Johnny Cash did gospel music right. If you observe the whole corpus of his contributions to the gospel side of country music, he manages to capture and hold together the sentimental and the prophetic. That is remarkably rare.
I have selected eight performances, not in any particular order. The first is from San Quentin State Prison and the last is a performance with his mom on The Johnny Cash Show. In between, there are a couple Kris Kristofferson songs. There is a harrowing song about drug addiction. There is a performance at a Billy Graham Crusade. There is so much good stuff here.
“He Turned the Water Into Wine” (San Quentin State Prison, February 24, 1969)
“The Junkie’s Prayer” (January 6, 1971)
“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” (Grand Ole Opry, August 20, 1962)
There is also another rendition (in color) that is well worth watching.
“They Killed Him” (December 1984)
This was written by Kris Kristofferson, who appears at the beginning of the video. The first verse is about Gandhi, the second is about Martin Luther King Jr’s “dream of beauty that they’ll never burn away,” and the final verse is about Jesus Christ.
“Why Me, Lord?”
This is another Kris Kristofferson song. You’ll also want to see both of them talking about another of Kris’ songs, “To Beat the Devil.”
“It Was Jesus” (Town Hall Party 1958)
“One of These Days I’m Gonna Sit Down And Talk To Paul” (Billy Graham Crusade, Tallahassee, FL, 1986)
“The Unclouded Day” (The Johnny Cash Show, May 13, 1970)
Johnny Cash performs, with his mom on the piano, the first song that he ever sang in public. This is such a beautiful moment.
There is also a DVD of a 1973 documentary / personal journey of Johnny Cash in the Holy Land: The Gospel Road.