Monday, November 24, 2014

Twenty Years of Johnny Cash Covering Edna St. Vincent Millay's Poem "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver"

In Box 66, Folder 13, of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Papers at the Library of Congress, there is a letter from B. Starr of Johnny Cash Music, Inc. to Millay's sister Norma, to whom the control of Millay's estate had passed upon Millay's death in 1950. Dated December 17, 1959, Starr's letter accompanies a copy of Cash's recording (not included in Box 66, Folder 13) of Vincent's 1922 poem "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver," which, Starr explains, Columbia Records was planning to release.

"I feel sure you will agree that the talents of Johnny Cash are well suited to a recording of 'The Harp Weaver,' and that the recording which I am enclosing is a dignified one," Starr writes. "As I told you in our telephone conversation, we would like to make an agreement for 'The Harp Weaver' as a musical composition upon the customary royalties of four cents per copy and 50% of the mechanical fees for records manufactures and sold of recordings of this song."

As we soon discovered, the P&PC office interns knew only the Johnny Cash of the iconic upraised middle finger and the cover of "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, so we sent them on a scavenger hunt for Cash's softer side. Here—nearly twenty years of Cash reciting "Harp Weaver"—is what they found.

1960 1970 1979