I got to hear Johnny Cash sing in person back in 1978 at a Billy Graham Crusade in Memphis. Here is a portion of an article about his Christian Testimony.
Cash also made major headlines when he shared his faith on The Johnny Cash Show, a popular variety program on ABC that ran from 1969 to 1971: “Well, folks,” he began, “I’ve introduced lots of hymns and gospel songs on this show. I just want to make it clear that I’m feeling what I’m singing about in this next one. I am a Christian … I want to dedicate this song to the proposition that God is the victor in my life. I’d be nothing without him. I want to get in a good lick right now for Number One.” (Yet there are those in the Church who questioned his decision, during one momentous episode of show, to sing the controversial lyric, “wishing Lord that I was stoned” from Kris Kristofferson’s hit “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”)
And while Cash longed to play only gospel music from the start—and would have if Sam Phillips hadn’t nixed his desires as economically unfeasible for Sun Records—he never shied away from performing secular-themed songs in the studio or on the concert stage throughout his career.
A huge influence on Cash in this potentially problematic area was, believe or not, evangelist Billy Graham, who sought out Johnny in the early ’70s when he heard of his commitment to God.
“He and I spent a lot of time talking the issues over, and we determined that I wasn’t called to be an evangelist …” Cash recalled of his first face-to-face conversations with Graham. “He had advised me to keep singing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘A Boy Named Sue’ and all those other outlaw songs if that’s what people wanted to hear and then, when it came time to do a gospel song, give it everything I had. Put my heart and soul into all my music, in fact; never compromise; take no prisoners. ‘Don’t apologize for who you are and what you’ve done in the past,’ he told me. ‘Be who you are and do what you do.’”
“I think I just like to share my faith, you know?” he said in recent years. “I don’t preach to people. I don’t ever push it on anybody, and I wouldn’t sing a gospel song on any show if I didn’t think the people would enjoy it. They seem to enjoy those as much or more than anything else. It’s not that I’m proselytizing. I’m not out there tryin’ to convince people, just to spread a little good news.”
As it turns out, Cash quickly became a welcome figure at both Billy Graham Crusades and on the ostentatious stages of Las Vegas. And while he insisted that these (seemingly) diametrically opposed venues were equally home in his heart and mind, U2′s Bono wasn’t convinced: “Johnny Cash doesn’t sing to the damned, he sings with the damned, and sometimes you feel he might prefer their company … “