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The Man in Black was among those inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame on Monday, Jan. 24.
Hosted by Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers and Christian comedian Chonda Pierce at Trinity Broadcast Network's Trinity Music City Auditorium in Hendersonville, Tenn., the induction ceremony featured a mix of musical styles as gospel group the Golden Gate Quartet, contemporary Christian duo DeGarmo & Key, disc jockey Bill "Hoss" Allen and Johnny Cash were ushered into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Performers including Trace Adkins, Christian singers Russ Taff and Jeremy Camp and Southern gospel group Ernie Haase + Signature Sound were on hand to honor the inductees.
Throughout his career, Johnny Cash made no secret of his love for gospel music, recording songs such as "It Was Jesus" and "The Man Comes Around." Johnny's sister, Joanne Cash, told Country Weekly that the late singer's gospel roots stretched back to his childhood. "When Johnny and I were kids, gospel music was our life, and it still is my life. He always wanted to be a gospel singer. My mother always said that God had his hand on Johnny, and God did have his hand on him. It breaks my heart that he's not here to see it, but you know what, he is seeing it. To me, it's the greatest highlight and ending of his life, because it was his lifelong desire to sing gospel music."
The Oak Ridge Boys were on hand to help induct Johnny, a special honor for the group. "The Oak Ridge Boys wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Johnny Cash," the group's Joe Bonsall told Country Weekly. "Johnny Cash was bigger than life, and still is to me. It's an incredible loss. I still can't believe that he and June are gone, to be honest. He took us out on the road, recorded with us, let us sing backup for him onstage and, more than any of that, he gave us inspiration and encouragement. He was a very spiritual man. He had his demons, but he had two saviors—June Carter Cash and Jesus Christ. And he leaned on both of them and needed both of them."
Joe, a close friend of Johnny's, recalled a poignant moment between the two friends. "I remember running into him at Eckerd's drugstore in Hendersonville one day [Johnny and June resided in Hendersonville, just north of Nashville], and he hugged me. I said, 'How you doin', John?' and he said, 'Joe, the devil's nipping at my heels, but you know, I'm staying just that far ahead.' I think that's how he lived his life."
Johnny's influence was also felt by Jeremy Camp, one of contemporary Christian music's top-selling artists. "I think if you play music and love music, you have some influence from Johnny Cash. I understand and appreciate it even more as I've gotten older. I remember I tried to sing his songs when I was younger, with that really low voice. I couldn't quite do it," he said with a laugh.
Trace Adkins performed "Wayfaring Stranger," which was included on the Man in Black's American III: Solitary Man (2002). According to wife Rhonda Adkins, the first time Trace had performed the song was at his grandmother's funeral. "I started singing gospel music when I was a child, and at that time all I knew Cash by was his [secular] stuff, but I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to honor Johnny Cash," said Trace.
Johnny's son, John Carter Cash, was on hand to accept Johnny's award. The evening ended with an all-star performance of "I'll Fly Away," featuring Trace, Ricky Skaggs, the Oak Ridge Boys and Larry Gatlin, among others.