Johnny Cash was born in the backwoods of Arkansas and came to fame in Nashville, Tenn., but in the late 1970s, a serendipitous conversation on an airplane revealed that Cash’s lineage led back to King Malcolm IV of Scotland (1153-1165) and Fife, a location in eastern Scotland.
After that, the Man in Black became a little obsessed with his Scottish heritage, so much so that near the end of his life he would check into hospitals under the name Malcolm. On Feb. 13, BBC Radio 4 is airing Johnny Cash of Easter Cash, a documentary that explores the legend’s Scot roots. It traces Cash’s lineage, including when the Cash family name crossed the Atlantic in 1612 when William Cash sailed with a boat of pilgrims to Salem, Mass. Cash visited Fife several times during his life to talk with townspeople and learn about his family, whose name still marks streets in the town. He even filmed a Christmas special in the town in 1981.
After her father’s death in 2003, Rosanne Cash found visits to Fife therapeutic. “There was something about going there and feeling so connected and welcomed that satisfied my grief and soothed it,” she told the Guardian. “The knowledge that I was returning to the place where our family’s story started and going to somewhere that gave my father so much pleasure and pride. Going further back into our Celtic past made him realize that this was where he derived his tone of voice, the mournful quality to his music, and it was that sense of place and time that was passed on to him and then on to me.”
Listen to the documentary on the radio or online this Saturday, Feb. 13 at 10:30 a.m. EST.