Werner Trieschmann

About Werner Trieschmann

Werner Trieschmann is the Dramaturg for Arkansas Repertory Theatre. Werner has had plays produced across the United States and, most recently, in England, Italy and Romania. His work has been staged at Moving Arts in Los Angeles, Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, The New Theatre in Boston and Red Octopus Productions in Little Rock. His comedy "You Have to Serve Somebody" (Dramatic Publishing) was developed at the Mount Sequoyah New Play Retreat in Fayetteville. He won first prize in the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans New Play Competition and was the first playwright to receive the Porter Prize, recognizing outstanding achievement by an Arkansas writer. He holds an MFA in playwriting from Boston University.

Five reasons you should see the Rep’s new production of “Henry V”

5. Avery Clark. With “Henry V” you have a chance to see a handsome production of one of Shakespeare’s top shelf history plays, which comes on the heels of the Rep’s terrific production of “Hamlet” in 2010. Rep audiences are lucky enough to witness Avery Clark in the title role in both plays.  Clark is one of those rare actors who is in command in every moment he’s on stage. There are two scenes in “Henry V” where Clark’s powers seem especially present. The first is at the beginning when young king Henry is on his throne and is given the mocking gift of a trunk of tennis balls by the Dauphine of France. Clark is so still and calm in this scene that you take notice when he lifts a hand to direct the attendants in his court.  Then, near the end, as Henry is wooing non-English speaking Katherine (played by Nikki Coble) to be his queen, Clark displays his uncanny comic timing. The scene just floats off the stage and the audience responds with sustained laughter.

4. The cast of “The 39 Steps” is reunited.  Joining Clark on stage in “Henry V” is the rest of the Rep’s cast from the hilarious production of “The 39 Steps” – Coble is the would-be queen who first ducks Henry’s kiss, Jason Guy pulling double duty as Chorus and Montjoy and Collins as the discipline-loving Welch soldier Fluellen.  This quartet that was so strong in “The 39 Steps” is no less so in “Henry V.” Don’t know if there is another play in the Rep’s future that would have roles for all four but one can hope.

3. Local actors shine.  Director Bob Hupp has put together a strong cast for this “Henry V”  and it includes a number of local faces who happen to be very busy during the course of the production. Michael Bartholmey plays three roles (Grey/Messenger/York),  Andrew Curzon, a freshman at Parkview Arts and Science High School plays Boy, Sheila Glasscock is Mistress Quckly and Alice, Bill Jones takes on three roles (French Ambassador/Erpingham/Bourbon) and Ed Lowry plays Bardolph and Gloucester. There is not a weak link among these actors in supporting roles.

2. A different Shakespeare.  The more one is exposed to Shakespeare, the more one can appreciate how the great dramatist was an entertainer as much as poet and profound thinker.  “Henry V” is at once a carefully balanced underdog tale (Henry’s ragtag forces are constantly being noted as sick as well as outnumbered by the massive French army before they triumph), a meditation on honor and the high cost of battle along with precise moments of levity (in nobody’s hands but Shakespeare’s would a scene as simple as Katherine’s instructions in English by her attendant Alice be written much less as fun as it is). Of course there are Henry’s rousing speeches to his troops (“Once more into the breach, dear friends”) and the Chorus’ attempt to paint the scene (“Can this cockpit hold/The vasty fields of France”) as prime examples of Shakespeare’s word sorcery.  In short, “Henry V” is a rich buffet and the Rep’s production serves it all up with flavor to spare.

1. Celebrate Mike Nichols.  With this production, Mike Nichols, the Rep’s resident set designer and technical director Mike Nichols, celebrates 30 years with the company. His set for “Henry V” is another one of his signature playing spaces. Wood beams shoot to the sky beside a platform equipped with a pair of wooden screens. It is both functional world for the army of actors and a visual knockout which is, of course, exactly what a theatre space must be. Rep audiences are truly lucky to have someone as talented and dedicated to his craft as Nichols. There are simply not that many designers who have remained at one theatre for the course of their career. An exhibit of Nichols’ work – sketches and photos from past shows – is on display in the bar on the second mezzanine.  It is worth the time to check out the singular creative output of this master artist.

The Life of William Inge, Playwright

William Inge was one of the most successful playwrights of the 1950s. He had a run of noted Broadway productions with Bus Stop and the Pulitzer Prize winning Picnic being his signature works. Inge, born in Independence, Kansas, brought well-constructed portraits of midwest characters to audiences in New York and then to film audiences around the country.

Inge’s fascination for the theatre began early. In the 1920s, Independence boasted many cultural events as top artists and shows played one night stands between performances in Kansas City, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The small town of Independence had a profound influence on the young Inge. He would later use this knowledge of small town life in many of his plays, most of which revolve around characters who are products of small towns like Independence.

“Well, I’ve got to write a play.”

In 1930, Inge graduated from Independence High School and later earned a degree in Speech and Drama from the Uiversity of Kansas at Lawrence. From 1937 to 1938, Inge taught high school English and Drama in Columbus and then moved St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked as the drama and music critic for the St. Louis Times. It was while he worked at the paper that Inge became acquainted with Tennessee Williams.

Inge accompanied Williams to a performance of his play The Glass Menagerie in Chicago. “I was terrifically moved by the play,” said Inge. “I thought it was the finest (play) I had seen in many years. I went back to St. Louis and felt, ‘Well, I’ve got to write a play.’”

With William’s encouragement and within three months, Inge had completed Farther Off from Heaven. Inge next turned a short story into Come Back, Little Sheba, which earned him the title of the most promising playwright of the 1950 Broadway season.

Success and Failure

In 1953, Inge’s Picnic opened at The Music Box Theatre in New York City. Along with the Pulitzer Prize, Picnic earned a Drama Critic Circle Award, The Outer Circle Award and The Theatre Club Award.

Inge’s next success came only two years later in 1955 when Bus Stop opened at The Music Box Theatre in New York City. The film version of Bus Stop was released by Fox in 1956 with Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray and Eileen Heckart in starring roles. Inge’s success continued as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, a reworking of his first play Farther Off from Heaven, opened on Broadway in 1957.

In 1959, the Broadway production of A Loss of Roses suffered numerous cast and script changes, opened to poor reviews and closed after three weeks. Inge was said to be devastated by the criticism. Yet in 1960, Inge’s first screenplay, “Splendor in the Grass,” was filmed in New York starring Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle and newcomer Warren Beatty. “Splendor in the Grass” was a triumph for Inge and won him an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

His next two plays, however, were not successful and he fell into a deep depression. Inge moved to California and wrote two novels while teaching playwriting at the Irvine campus of the University of California. He committed suicide on June 10, 1973 at his home in Hollywood. He was 60 years old. Inge was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in his hometown of Independence. His headstone reads simply, “Playwright.”

Since 1982, Independence Community College’s William Inge Center for the Arts has sponsored the annual William Inge Theatre Festival to honor playwrights. The “William Inge Collection” at the college is the most extensive collection in existence, including 400 manuscripts, films, correspondence and other items related to Inge’s work.

Notes on the stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird

Playwright Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird necessarily condenses the many incidents in Lee’s novel. The play concentrates its energy around the trail of Tom Robinson and the children’s interest in the mysterious Boo Radley.

Sergel, who was president of Dramatic Publishing from 1970 to 1993, published a short essay on his adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Here is an excerpt from that essay.

Meeting with Harper Lee to discuss the stage adaptation of her extraordinary book To Kill A Mockingbird was an event about which I felt much trepidation.

My father, Roger Sergel, was had been Professor of English at the University of Pittsburg and who had been close to many leading writers of his day — Sherwood Anderson dedicated a book to him — particularly admired Harper Lee’s book. He died before I met with Harper Lee, but I can still remember his unqualified enthusiasm for her work. When To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize, my father said, “This is the first time I entirely agree with the Pulitzer Prize.”

Prior to meeting directly with Harper Lee, I had a number of useful discussions with Maurice Crain who was a creative force in her life, as to some extent he was in mine. Lucille Sullivan of that office was also a source of excellent advice on this project.

The meeting with Harper Lee, as I recall it from twenty years ago, took place at the Hotel Pierre in New York City. It began as an early lunch and lasted several hours. As we discussed the adaptation and the reasons for the choices being made, I had a sense that she felt the work was on the right track, which, of course, was due at least in part to the good advice I’d been given earlier by Maurice Crain. The good discussion continued with Harper Lee as we walked down the hotel corridor. Passing a row of public phones I had an irrational wish that I could call my father and tell him that I’d met with Harper Lee myself and the meeting had gone well.

A taxi stopped in front and I opened the door for Harper Lee. She embraced me and was gone. I’ve never seen her again. Perhaps the essence of what I believe she does better than any writer I know is captured in a brief response Atticus makes to a question from his daughter Scout. In the book as in the play, Tom Robinson, a black man, is wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit and is later shot down by prison guards as he tries to escape. In anguish, Scout asks her father how such a thing could be done to Tom. Atticus replies, “Because he wasn’t ‘Tom’ then.” The special beauty of Harper Lee’s work is that she takes us inside the people in her book, and in their various ways, each becomes “Tom” to us.

-Christopher Sergel


Biography of Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee was born 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. The youngest of four children, Lee’s father was a lawyer who also owned a portion of the town’s newspaper. Her mother hardly ever left the house and likely suffered from undiagnosed metal illnesses.

Lee was a self-described tomboy and grew up alongside fellow writer Truman Capote. During high school Lee developed her interest in literature, later enrolling in Huntingdon College for girls in Montgomery, Alabama. Lee was part of the literary honors society at her college and her stringent work habits kept her out of the social scene.

She later transferred to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where she continued to study literature and also wrote for the school’s newspaper and humor magazine. Lee was accepted in the University’s law school but didn’t last long there. She soon moved to New York to pursue a career in writing.

It was 1949 when the 23-year-old Lee arrived in New York City. She was reunited with her childhood friend Capote, and was also introduced to Broadway composer Michael Martin Brown and his wife, who both became close friends. For years the young writer struggled financially, working as a ticketing agent for various airlines. However in 1956, the Browns gave Lee a Christmas present. They offered to support her for a year so she could devote all her energy to her writing. During the year she did a majority of work on To Kill a Mockingbird

Lee finished the manuscript for her novel in 1959 and shortly after went to Kansas with Truman Capote to research the murder of a family there. Capote’s New Yorker article about the murders would later evolve into the non-fiction classic, In Cold Blood.

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and almost immediately captured the attention of readers. The Book-of-the-Month Club picked up the book and an excerpted version also appeared in Readers’ Digest magazine. In 1961 the book won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and playwright Horton Foote was selected to write a screenplay adaptation for the 1962 film. The movie took home four Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch.
Though she was rumored to be working on a nonfiction book throughout the 1960s, the work was never published. To Kill a Mockingbird remains Lee’s only published novel, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s she largely retreated from public life. She now lives a quiet life in both New York City and Monroeville, where she lives with her sister and is active in her church and community.

Lee typically avoids any interviews, though she did attend a ceremony at The White House in 2007 during which she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the book.


Rep’s Meaningful Pageant

With the current production of “A Christmas Carol, The Musical” the Rep is doing what theatre artists have done practically since Charles Dickens’ novella about Ebenezer Scrooge was published in 1834.

Thanks in large part to the annual stage productions (and then, of course, film adaptations) of “A Christmas Carol,” the story of Scrooge’s redemption is a much a part of the American holiday as Christmas trees and eggnog.

“A Christmas Carol, The Musical,” written by noted composer and lyricist Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens, was in fact a fixture of New York City’s not inconsiderable holiday season for 10 years. “A Christmas Carol, The Musical” debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1994 with played each season thereafter with a series of high profile performers from Tony Randall to Roger Daltry taking on the role of Scrooge.

For the Rep’s creative team, the familiarity of the tale is one that presents its own set of problems. “How do we get audiences to watch what the story is about instead of watching this famous thing go by?” wonders director Alan Souza. “It is the trap of ‘A Christmas Carol.’”

This is the second year that Souza has helmed a big holiday musical for the Rep. His  “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” seen here in 2010, dazzled audiences and critics with its energy, color and style. For Souza, the message at the heart of “A Christmas Carol” is especially powerful in 2011.

Dickens, he notes, was writing about the Industrial Age and economic hardship that affected his own father, who went to jail for debt. “Dickens was writing about the socio-economic conditions and he was writing about the class system,” says Souza. “He was writing about what happened to his family. He was writing about the haves and have-nots. Turn on the television today and you could not have a more appropriate message.”

The director notes that the musical version communicates these ideas and characters in a different way than adaptations without the music. “It’s always a challenge in musicals because the book is written in shorthand, especially when based on a novel,” says Souza. “The music allows us to explore emotions and ideas that we don’t get to when it’s just speaking.

This version is masterful, thought it is different than that the one in New York. The music is very, very bright, as you would expect from Menken and Ahrens. We want that to be the hook and then surprise the audience in how we present the characters such a vivid way. You know Scrooge but you don’t him in the way we are portraying him and you don’t know it as a musical comedy.”

David Benoit has always been drawn to the character of Scrooge but didn’t think he would ever get the chance to play the part. Souza had worked with Benoit before and specifically asked him to audition. “I’ve wanted to play Scrooge since I was in college because I thought I understood him,” says Benoit. “I do understand him. But my physical type dictates the director’s choices.

Thankfully Alan is one that goes for the underbelly and not the shell.” “We want to find the humanity in Scrooge,” says Souza. Benoit knows that the expectations for “A Christmas Carol” are already set. “When you tell people you are in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ they sort of roll their eyes,” says Benoit. “But it’s just a beautifully written piece. The arc of Scrooge is so huge. We have these beautiful kids in the cast that are so hopeful and wonderful. All I have to do is watch them.”

The director wants more than a pageant, more than a brightly colored musical – though he wants that as well. “We will have succeeded if we can get the audience to believe these people exist in front of us,” says Souza. “You don’t realize you have so much in common with Scrooge. We are going to make a pretty package but the message there for the taking.”

Themes of A Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol, The Musical

There are several striking themes found in Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol. The theme of a Christmas spirit – making time for family and celebration every year — is one that is prevalent throughout the novel. There are also the issues of social welfare and poverty that were very much a part of the new Industrial Age in which Dickens’ lived.

A Christmas Carol was published on the heels of the British government’s changes to the welfare system known as the New Poor Laws, passed in 1834. Dickens’ intent on writing his novella was to “strike a sledge-hammer blow…on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.” The novelist had first-hand experience with poverty, watching when he was 12 his father imprisoned for debt. Then the young Dickens was sent to work at a factory for three years.

For the writers of A Christmas Carol, The Musical the theme of redemption is the one that holds the strongest attraction. The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from sour miser to generous and happy Christmas celebrant is the focus for the musical adaptation.

Price Clark as “Tiny Tim” and David Benoit as “Ebenezer Scrooge” in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol, The Musical. Photography by Cindy Momchilov. © Copyright 2011 Arkansas Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved.

Mike Ockrent, book writer and original director for A Christmas Carol, The Musical, wrote a letter during the early years of the production of his show. That letter demonstrates the theme of redemption is one that resonated with the creative team.

’It’s never too late to change.’ That’s the message in our musical version of A Christmas Carol. It’s a wonderful, optimistic Christmas message that Charles Dickens’ story reminds us of every year. And the notion that the human spirit is not immutable, cast in stone, incapable of renewal, is the reason that A Christmas Carol has found such a place in our hearts, generation after generation. This magnificent underlying theme has come to symbolize the secular, yet spiritual, meaning of the Christmas festival. When Lynn Ahrens, Alan Menken and I set out to dramatize and musicalize this classic tale, this was our starting point.

History of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol, The Musical

A Christmas Carol, The Musical opens at The Rep on December 2.

One of the many notable points about Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, is that it was a hit from the moment it was published in 1843. Six thousand copies were sold within months and eight stage adaptations were in production almost immediately.

Interestingly enough, A Christmas Carol was born out of Dickens’ need for cash. His wife Kate was expecting their fifth child and a large mortgage was putting pressure on the popular author. Though his holiday tale was quickly in high demand, Dickens’ didn’t see as much profit as he wished in part due to pirated versions that soon appeared in the market.

One would have to imagine that Dickens would be astonished at the continuing popularity of A Christmas Carol, particularly in the form of various film and stage adaptations. Every year seems to bring a new take on A Christmas Carol, from The Muppets (1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol) to Bill Murray (1998’s Scrooged) to Vanessa Williams (2000’s A Diva’s Christmas Carol)

A Christmas Carol, The Musical debuted at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden on December 1, 1994. The show received Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Musical. For ten years the show was a staple of New York City’s packed holiday season. Walter Charles was the first in a long line of high profile performers to play Scrooge. Over the 10 years that the show was presented annually, Tim Curry, Tony Randall, Hal Linden, Roddy McDowall, Frank Langella, Tony Roberts and even Roger Daltry all starred as Dickens’ most famous curmudgeon.

The stage version of A Christmas Carol, The Musical was presented for the final time at Madison Square Garden on December 27, 2003. A year later, a film adaptation of the show premiered on NBC, starring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge.

The Life of Charles Dickens

Here’s a short biography of Charles Dickens, the author of A Christmas Carol. The Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol, The Musical opens on December 2.

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, a town on the southern coast of England. Dickens’s childhood provided much inspiration for his later writings: When Charles was 12, his father was imprisoned for having too much debt, and Charles was sent to work in a
“blacking factory” for three years. For 10 hours a day, Charles would paste labels onto jars of shoe polish. His experiences at the factory were revisited in the horrible treatment undergone by his characters in David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

Like many writers of his day, Charles Dickens’ writing career began as a journalist, reporting on governmental activity at Parliament. His access to publishers helped him get his stories into print. Today we know of Dickens’s works as long, complete books, but most of his work was originally published serially. Similar to our modern television series, shorter episodes of Dickens’s books would be published monthly in small booklets, sold for just a shilling each. Each new episode would build interest as readers shared their reactions and wondered together what the next installment would bring. His first popular series, The Pickwick Papers, ran in papers from April 1836 to November 1837. The success of this project catapulted Dickens’s career as a novelist.

These and the next few years of Dickens’s life were busy ones: He was married to Catherine Hogarth in 1836, and she gave birth to the first of their 10 children early the next year. He also wrote two of his more famous novels, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

Charles Dickens took his first trip to America in 1842. He was not impressed with what he saw; his chronicle of the trip published the following year, American Notes, was critical of many common American practices—he was disgusted by the chewing (and spitting!) of tobacco and horrified by the keeping of slaves. This publication made him unpopular in America for a while.

Dickens’s most famous creation, A Christmas Carol, was published in 1843. At the time, the celebration of Christmas was waning as economic and social conditions worsened, a result of the Industrial Revolution. Rather than write a pamphlet on the injustices he saw around him, Dickens presented his Christmas Carol, a story in which the redemptive power of Christmas overcomes the prevailing economic and social inequities of the time. A Christmas Carol went a long way toward resurrecting the celebration of Christmas in England.

Charles Dickens died on June 9, 1870, leaving his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.

Ring of Fire: Song by Song

Read more about each song featured in The Rep’s production of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, including label and release dates, sample lyrics and background information.

“Country Boy”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date: Sun, 1957
Sample lyric: “Country boy/Ain’t got no wills/Country boy/You don’t owe no bills”
Note: “Country Boy,” an exceptionally short tune running only 1:49 on record, was on Cash’s debut, Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar. This was the first full album put out by Memphis’ Sun records. Also, Cash had the songwriting credit listed under his birth name.

“Flesh and Blood”
Songwriter: Johnny Cash
Label and release date: Columbia, 1970
Sample lyric: “Mother Nature’s quite a lady/But you’re the one I need/Flesh and blood need flesh and blood/And you’re the one I need”

“While I’ve Got It On My Mind”
Songwriter: Johnny Cash
Label and release date: Columbia, 1974
Sample lyric: “Now boys don’t you be rambling free/And leaving your girls to cry/Cause the nights are cold and there ain’t no gold/That’ll ever satisfy”

“Five Feet High and Rising”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date: Sun, 1959
Note: The song is based on a real event, the 1937 flood that forced the evacuation of the Dyess Colony where the Cash family lived and worked.

“In the Sweet By and By”
Songwriters: S. Fillmore Bennett and Joseph P. Webster
Label and release date: Columbia, 1975
Note: Cash’s first recording of the 1868 Christian hymn was for the gospel album, Sings Precious Memories. Cash had tried and failed to convince Sam Phillips, head of the Memphis Sun label, to let him record a gospel music. When Cash moved to Columbia (with a number of hits under his belt), his wish was granted. Sings Precious Memories was his fifth gospel album for Columbia.

“Daddy Sang Bass”
Songwriter: Carl Perkins
Label and release date: Columbia, 1968
Note: Rockabilly star Perkins wrote this song about a family united through gospel music for Cash, his friend and tour mate. Perkins credited Cash for renewing his faith and recovery from alcohol addiction.

“I Still Miss Someone”
Songwriters: Johnny Cash and brother Roy Cash
Label and release date: Columbia, 1958
Sample lyric: “I wonder if she’s sorry/For leavin’ what we’d begun/There’s someone for me somewhere/And I still miss somewhere”

“Tennessee Flat Top Box”
Songwriter: Johnny Cash
Label and release date: Columbia, 1961
Note: In 1987 Johnny’s daughter Roseanne Cash had a chart-topping hit with her cover of “Tennessee Flat Box.” Roseanne, given the song by her then husband Rodney Crowell, wasn’t aware at the time that it was written by her father.

“Straight A’s in Love”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date: Sun, 1959
Sample lyric: “Oh, my grades are low on my card, I know/But they oughta give me one above/If they’d give me a mark for learnin’ in the dark/I’d have straight A’s in love”

“Big River”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date: Sun, 1958
Note: “Big River” was the last song on Cash’s second album, Johnny Cash Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous. The Tennessee Two’s insistent, thumping beat coupled with Cash’s vocals — particularly powerful with more than a hint of danger — make “Big River” a standout song.

“Tear Stained Letter”
Songwriter: Johnny Cash
Label and release date: Columbia, 1972
Note: Cash recorded this brooding love song twice — first for the Columbia album, A Thing Called Love and then for American IV: The Man Comes Around, the final album that would be released while Cash was alive.

“Get Rhythm”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date: Sun, 1956
Note: The B-side to “I Walk the Line” is an uptempo piece of optimism, the rhythm produced by a “shoeshine boy” to ward off the blues. Cash demonstrates that his material can come from almost any part of life.

“Egg Suckin’ Dog”
Songwriter: Jack H. Clement
Label and release date: Columbia, 1966
Note: One of Cash’s great strengths was his enthusiasm in tackling novelty songs like this one and “A Boy Named Sue.” This tune, which debuted on Everybody Loves a Nut, was written by Clement, who started out as a producer and engineer at Sun Records. Clement wrote a number of hits for Cash including “Guess Things Happen That Way.”

“Oh Come, Angel Band”
Songwriter: Johnny Cash
Label and release date: Cachet/Columbia, 1979
Sample lyric: “My triumph is begun/Oh come, angel band/Come around me and stand/Oh, bear me away on your snow white wings”

“Flushed from the Bathroom of My Heart”
Songwriter: Jack H. Clement
Label and release date: Columbia, 1968
Note: One of a couple of novelty songs on the live At Folsom Prison album. At Folsom Prison, a critical and commercial success, marked a turning point in Cash’s career. Cash said “that’s where things got started for me again.”

“If I Were a Carpenter”
Songwriter: Tim Hardin
Label and release date: Columbia, 1970
Note: A duet between Johnny and June Carter that was awarded a Grammy in 1971 for Best Country Performance by Duo or Group with Vocal.

“Ring of Fire”
Songwriters: June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore
Label and release date: Columbia, 1963
Note: The biggest hit of Cash’s career was first performed by June’s sister, Anita Carter, and was titled “(Love’s) Ring of Fire.” Cash told Anita that he would give her version time to catch on and become popular but, if it didn’t, then he would record it the way he wanted. Of course, Cash did just that with the flourish of mariachi horns (which he later claimed came to him in a dream) being the most distinctive element of any Cash song and arguably any in the history of country music. Cash’s “Ring of Fire” invariably lands on lists of greatest songs — in 2003 CMT put it at number 4 in its 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music.

“I’ve Been Everywhere”
Songwriter: Geoff Mack
Label and release date: American, 1996
Note: This Cash cover of  a signature song for country star Hank Snow appeared on the Unchained album. It was the second album where Cash teamed with producer Rick Rubin, who had produced the Beasties Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers among many others.

“Cry, Cry, Cry”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date: Sun, 1955
Note: The song that Cash supposedly wrote overnight to impress Sam Phillips at Sun after “Hey Porter” did not sell. It did the trick and a number of hits for Cash at Sun followed.

“Sunday Morning Coming Down”
Songwriter: Kris Kristofferson
Label and release date: Columbia, 1970
Note: Ray Stevens released and was able to chart his version of this Kristofferson song one year before Cash. But Cash, backed by a sweeping arrangement of lush strings, made the song his, winning Country Music Association’s “Song of the Year” award in 1970.

“Going to Memphis”
Songwriters: Johnny Cash, Hollie Dew and Alan Lomax
Label and release date: Columbia, 1960
Sample lyric: “Like a bitter weed, I’m a bad seed/But when that levee’s through I am too/Let the honky tonk roll on/Come mornin’ I’ll be gone”

“Delia’s Gone”
Songwriters: Karl Silbersdorf and Dick Toops
Label and release date: Columbia, 1962
Note: Cash recorded this dark ballad of murder for The Sound of Johnny Cash and then for his 1994 comeback American Recordings. This and “Cocaine Blues” would be contenders for the darkest material Cash ever put to record. The song is based on the real life murder of Delia Green in 1900 and several artists have written or sung about the crime.

“Orleans Parish Prison”
Songwriter: Dick Feller
Label and release date: Columbia, 1973
Sample lyric: “Well, have you missed my brother man/He took a little money with a gun in his hand/Know the kids are hungry and the wife ain’t well/And the daddy’s locked up in a prison cell”

“Folsom Prison Blues”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date:  Sun, 1956
Note: One has to think that if Cash had done nothing else but leave this song to the world, then he would still have a noted reputation. But “Folsom Prison Blues,” one of his early songs for Sun and then a key part of his At Folsom Prison live, is where Cash stands out less as a hit maker and more as a songwriter. The details here of the man stuck in prison while the world moves around him are perfect, from the chilling “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” to the less quoted “I know I had it comin’/I know I can’t be free.”

“Man in Black”
Songwriter: Johnny Cash
Label and release date: Columbia, 1971
Note: Part of Cash’s greatness comes from the fact that he recorded lots of novelty songs as well as protest numbers like this one. “Man in Black” is hardly the most artful song in Cash’s catalog but few if any country stars then or now were so vocal about social concerns. In many ways, these protest songs put Cash firmly in the folk camp and made him a significant figure transcending genre boundaries.

“All Over Again”
Songwriter: Johnny Cash
Label and release date: Columbia, 1958
Sample lyric: “I want to fall in love again beginning from the start/All over again/Show me how you stole away my heart/All over again”

“Boy Named Sue”
Songwriter: Shel Silverstein
Label and release date: Columbia, 1969
Note: The big hit off of At San Quentin, a song that Cash had only recently received and needed a cheat sheet to perform for the prisoners in San Quentin.

Songwriters: Jerry Leiber and Billy Edd Wheeler
Label and release date: Columbia, 1967
Note: This duet with June Carter Cash — though not written by Johnny or June — captures the spirit and spark of the pair. It quickly became their signature duet. June, who had studied acting under noted acting guru Lee Strasberg, puts on a show in this tune.

“I Walk the Line”
Songwriter: John R. Cash,
Label and release date: Sun, 1956
Note: Cash’s first big hit and work that established the singer-songwriter’s unrivaled place in popular music. In 2004 Rolling Stone put it at number 30 in  their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
“It was different than anything else you had ever heard,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone about the song. “A voice from the middle of the Earth.”

“The Far Side Banks of Jordan”
Songwriter: Terry Stephen Smith
Label and release date: Columbia, 1976
Sample lyric: “Through this life we’ve labored hard to earn our meager fare/It’s brought us trembling hands and failing eyes/So I’ll just rest here on this shore and turn my eyes away/Until you come, then we’ll see paradise”

“Why Me, Lord”
Songwriter: Kris Kristofferson
Label and release date: American, 1994
Note: This song about redemption was a rare country hit for Kristofferson in 1973. Cash recorded it for American Recordings, his first album with Rick Rubin as producer.

“Hey Porter”
Songwriter: John R. Cash
Label and release date: Sun, 1955
Note: It wasn’t the hit that Sam Phillips at Sun was hoping for and it wasn’t even on Cash’s debut. But it was the one of the first songs young Cash would write, which he did on his way back from being stationed in Germany. “Hey Porter” captures the great excitement of Cash returning home to Arkansas.