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Roseanne Cash Enthralls Audience at Local Talk

Grammy-award winning songwriter and singer Roseanne Cash enthralled the Rye Reading Room audience with stories about her creative journey and her legendary father.

Many daughters grow up with a complicated blend of feelings about their fathers, from admiration to anxiety about meeting their expectations. Now imagine having music legend Johnny Cash as a father and trying to make it in the music business yourself, on your own terms and successful because of your talents, not your father's famous name.

Roseanne Cash, Grammy-winning country songwriter and performer and eldest daughter of cultural icon Johnny Cash, did just that, stepping out of the shadow of her father's legacy to a career that includes 11 No. 1 country hit recordings, 12 studio albums and 5 compilations, along with numerous musical collaborations and two books.

Cash enthralled an audience of more than 100 people at Rye Free Reading Room on Tuesday night. Despite rainy weather, a standing-room only crowd gathered  to hear her discuss her musical career and the origins of her creative process with CBS correspondent Anthony Mason.

Perhaps Cash, the eldest of Johnny Cash's four daughters with first wife Vivian Liberto Cash, had little choice on what road she would take, as her love of music and her love of her father seemed as intertwined and intrinsic as could be.

"My love of music, that was DNA-encoded," Cash told host Anthony Mason. "It's hard to tell if it’s nature or nurture."

She decided to try her hand at songwriting in her late teens.

"I started writing songs at 18; I thought it was a very noble profession," Cash said. "I thought I would set off depth charges in the world with my words and my melodies, but no one would ever see me."

Wrestling with the gap between her artistic ambitions and her abilities became Cash's driving motivation. She went off the Europe to establish her independence and find her way artistically.

Describing herself as having "an ambivalent relationship with her own voice," Cash struggled with depression and self-doubt along the way.

"I don't think anyone is born confident when they set out on their own path," Cash said. For her, a musical career was also fraught with other burdens. "I was going out into a field where I was inviting comparison. I was lucky I was a girl."

Though her relationship with her father was close, Cash said she still strained to find her own space. "Every young person has to push away from their parents no matter what they do."

That journey was the psychic terrain of  her 2010 memoir Composed. Eventually, Cash reached a critical point in her artistic development.

"I had good instincts, but not enough skills; I had to spend years working on the skills," Cash said. "I had a lot of success before I felt mastery over what I was doing. I knew I was working toward something, and I just kept showing up."

"I wanted to be better, I wanted to go deeper," Cash continued. "I wasn't ungrateful, I just wanted to be better at what I was successful at."

These days, Cash says she is very comfortable discussing the influence of her father upon her work. At age 18, he shared with her a list of 100 essential songs which included country classics such as "She's Got You" and "Long Black Veil."

That gesture left a huge impression upon her, driving her to learn more about the architecture of the music she loved to create. Her 2009 album, "The List," was based upon the songs her father passed to her.

Cash poignantly described how she came to ask her father to duet with her on the song "September When It Comes" in 2003, just before he passed away.

Her husband John Leventhal found the lyrics she had written and composed a melody for them, then he implored her to reach out to her father.

"If there was ever a song or a time to ask your dad to do a duet this is the song and this is the time," said Cash, recounting what her husband said. "It hit me, this could be my only chance."

Though ill, Cash said her father agreed to record the song after reading the lyrics. Perhaps because of the underlying themes of mortality  and fragility it represented, he rallied his strength to record the track.

"His energy started rising as he was singing it," she said. "He recorded three vocal tracks, I didn't think we’d get one." Cash said her father, his health failing, even promised to record another if those weren't good enough. But they assuredly were.

Cash, a mother of three daughters, one son and a stepdaughter, now has the opportunity to make a "list" of her own. Her youngest daughter, Chelsea, is a songwriter and has asked Cash to prepare her own list of 100 influential songs.

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