Songwriters tell our lives in music


“God is in the roses, the petals and the thorns, storms out on the oceans, the souls who will be born. And every drop of rain that falls, falls for those who mourn…… God is in the roses and the thorns.

— Roseanne Cash


One of my earliest memories, emblazoned on my heart forever, is of sitting with my Dad at our kitchen table one day, listening to the radio. I feel certain we were waiting for the weather report, and it was tuned to the local station for this purpose.

The next thing I knew, my calm and quiet father was turning up the volume for a new song that he had heard only once before.

“Listen to these words!” he said to my sister and me, which struck us as highly unusual coming from our father. The next thing we knew, he was laughing in that wonderful, all-out, full-tilt, joyously ridiculous way that we almost never saw in our dad.

My sister and I started laughing too, so amused by the lyrics of this silly song, but mostly giddy with our dad’s funny bone being so tickled. The song was A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash, and every time we heard it, we stopped to sing along and laugh with the silliness of it all.

I was raised on some great music, my Dad favoring Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee, Eddie Arnold and Johnny Cash. Our mother often listened to the Big Band music, as well as the pop hits from the ’40s and ’50s. I remember the cover of a Mitch Miller album like it was a photograph of a family member, because she would often ask me to put it on to play while she was ironing.

I knew all the words to the great Patsy Cline songs, and I could relate in later years when Barbara Mandrell sang of “being country when country wasn’t cool.” None of my friends even knew who Patsy Cline was, and we surely didn’t play any of her music as we drove our battered cars around as teenagers in the late 1970s.

So, it thrills me to pieces that my son and daughter not only know who Patsy Cline is, but they can sing along to her great old music, and have added Johnny Cash to their own personal music collections.

Later, I became a fan of Roseanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s oldest daughter. I loved her eclectic sound, her amazing ability to fill a song with such emotion. I wondered what life must have been like, growing up in the shadow of the Carter and Cash families.

Just recently, I read her autobiography, Composed, and respect her more than ever. In just the span of months, she lost her mother, her step-mother, a step-sister, a dear aunt and her father. Through her blinding grief, she wrote some incredible songs that make up Black Cadillac, a beautiful collection.

Sharing her father so publicly was never easy, and losing him while the world watched was agonizing as well. She had quietly shared the good, the bad, the pain, the shame, the triumph that was the roller-coaster of her father’s life.

Well-meaning people would say, in the months after his death, how hard losing him had been for them, personally.

“This was Johnny Cash the performer to them… to me, with his passing, I lost one half of my heart,” she says.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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