Rosanne Cash returns to the land of her youth with Feb. 19 performance
Four Grammys and 11 nominations. Twenty-one Top 40 hits, including 11 that reached No. 1. Membership in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and a SAG/AFTRA Lifetime Achievement Award for Sound Recordings.
But for Rosanne Cash, achieving awards and honors has never been her primary motivation for making music.
“Achievements are nice and wonderful, as is positive feedback from the audience and my peers,” says the soft-spoken singer-composer-author-teacher-playwright and former Ventura County resident, who will perform Feb. 19 at the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks. “But it’s not the source for what I do.”
“Music is my life’s mission, passion, who I am at base,” she continues, speaking by phone from her home in New York City. “It’s my love of language, the way I share rhythms and melody that is my spiritual and musical source. And it’s hard to know where it comes from, but I know it’s there. I can’t separate the drive to write and create music from who I am any more than I can separate my arm.”
Beyond the music
In the past five years, much of that musical drive has been channeled into creating — with John Leventhal, her guitarist husband of 28 years — a musical based on the life of Norma Rae.
“There has been interest from several New York theaters,” she notes, “and it looks like 2024 before it will hit the stage.”
Cash has enjoyed the process, though, as she has enjoyed most everything in which she has been involved. While music has been the core of her life, she has been a best-selling author (her 2010 memoir, Composed, made it onto The New York Times’ bestseller list); a guest columnist for numerous publications; an opponent of gun violence (one of the few among country music makers); and an advocate for songwriters equity, children’s rights and an end to racism.
She also speaks frequently — in books, in public forums and in film documentaries — on the importance of art and culture in society, especially today.
“There is so much divisiveness in the world today — outrage, insults, attacks on people, petty grievances, so much toxic stuff in the public discourse,” Cash observes, rather sadly. “Art and culture is such a powerful tool. It’s not a religion or a political party or a cult; it’s a universal language. I really believe that if we ever achieve world peace, it’ll be done through the arts, not by politicians.”
Teacher and mentor
That’s one reason this mother of four treasures the opportunities to work with youth in any capacity. Last year, she served as Americana Artist-in-Residence at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
“That was a beautiful experience,” she says warmly. “I worked with songwriting students and the writer Peter Guralnick [the noted rock ’n’ roll historian] on exploring the matriarchs of roots music. And I enjoy going to universities to work with theater and songwriting students. It’s so incredibly inspiring to work with young people who so badly want to create, who are searching for how to connect with their own voice. Even at age 20, they have this wellspring of experience. And for me, to learn from them is an unexpected gift.”
Current projects, in addition to the Norma Rae musical, include work on a new album.
“I also want to do more writing,” Cash says, “and I wouldn’t mind doing another musical. Writing lyrics for a musical is interesting for me. And I’ll get off the road sometime in the next two years. I’ve seen enough airport security checks to last several lifetimes.”
But she welcomes the chance to perform in Thousand Oaks, an event that brings Cash to the region where her music career began. It was shortly after graduation from Ventura’s St. Bonaventure High School in 1973 that she started creating her own music and performing with her legendary father, Johnny Cash.
That led to her first solo album, Right or Wrong (1979), that produced three Top 25 country singles, and a second album, Seven Year Ache (1981), whose title song was a crossover hit on the pop charts and No. 1 on the country charts. Her 1985 single “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, and in 2014 she earned three Grammys for The River & the Thread (Best Americana Album) and “A Feather’s Not a Bird” (Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance).
These will be among many songs, old and new, that Cash and her husband will perform in Thousand Oaks, part of her much-anticipated return to Ventura County where she spent much of her childhood.
“I still have friends from school I enjoy getting together with when I’m there,” she says, a smile evident in her voice. “I also like to spend time at the ocean; the area is so pretty. My mom [Vivian Liberto Cash Distin] is buried in Ventura, and I always visit her grave. So I still have an affinity for Ventura County, and I look forward to playing there again.”
Rosanne Cash will perform on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 8 p.m., at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. For tickets and more information, call 805-449-2787 or visit bapacthousandoaks.com.