ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of song, "Sea of Heartbreak")

Ms. ROSANNE CASH (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) The sea of heartbreak, lost love and loneliness, memories of your caress so divine. I wish you were mine again, my dear. I'm on a sea of tears, the sea of heartbreak.

SIEGEL: Last weekend, my co-host Michele Norris was in Seattle at the Moore Theatre on stage with writer and singer Rosanne Cash.

Cash has had a long string of country hits dating back to the early 1980s. Her most recent album, out last year, is called "The List." Rosanne Cash, of course, had a very famous father - Johnny Cash - but she and Michele talked a lot about mothers. Rosanne's mother was Johnny Cash's first wife, Vivian Liberto, and her stepmother was June Carter Cash, a member of the legendary musical Carter Family.

Just before Mother's Day, we want to play you a bit of Michele's conversation with Rosanne Cash.

MICHELE NORRIS: If you don't mind, I would love for you to tell me a little bit about your mother, Vivian Liberto.

Ms. CASH: She was a Texan from San Antonio, Italian, strict Catholic family. And so it's kind of a weird combo, Sicilian Texan. There's some intensity there, let's just say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: A lot of emotion too.

NORRIS: You are surrounded by memories of your father. I asked Sean Lennon this one, what it was like to walk into the Gap and suddenly hear your dad on the overhead speaker.

Ms. CASH: That happens to me all the time.

NORRIS: So, he's sort of there and there are reminders of him. What do you do to keep your mother present in your life in the same way, or is she there in a different way?

Ms. CASH: Well, it's not always a good thing to have your dad show up unexpected all the time. You know, you grieve and you mourn and you miss someone, but you can't be in that space all the time. You have to go on with your life. My mother is there just in the way I keep my house and raise my kids.

And I have one daughter, my youngest daughter who's - she's really inherited a lot of my mother's characteristics and passion, so I see my mom every day in this kid.

NORRIS: Did your parents sing particular lullabies to you and do you sing those same lullabies to your children?

Ms. CASH: My dad used to sing...

(Singing) Don't mind the rain or the rolling sea...

No, he didn't. I sing that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: It's so funny how you sing it so long you think, oh, this has been around, you know, they sang, my grandparent sang it. No, he used to sing...

(Singing) You take the high road and I'll take the low, and I'll be in Scotland before ye.

I still sing that one to my kids.

NORRIS: Now, you are a stepmother as am I, and you had a stepmother in your life, June Carter Cash. Tell us about your relationship with her.

Ms. CASH: She was insane. I mean in the best way possible. She was the most charming, crazy person you ever met. But she had grown up on the stage. She literally started performing from four, five years old. So, she - her life off stage and on stage were exactly the same. There was no persona change whatsoever. There was no fourth wall for her.

She could be talking to you and having the deepest conversation and walk on stage, continue the conversation and just break stride, do the performance and come off and continue it, you know? In fact, the greatest story she ever told me about herself: She was on one of those package tours through the South in the 1950s where they had several country bands on, and the Carter Family was one of those bands.

So, she was at one show and the band on before her, the banjo player didn't show up. And they were, oh, where are we going to find a banjo player? And June said, well, I'll do it. They said, oh, thank God, come out. You know, June went out, she played the banjo with this band, she came off - she had never played banjo in her life.

NORRIS: Oh, you're kidding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: She told me this story. I said, but how did you know how to play banjo? She said, well, honey, when I stepped on stage I knew how to play banjo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASH: And that's just how she thought: If you were on stage, you could do anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: I mean, it's good to have someone in your life who has that sort of attitude.

Ms. CASH: So good. It was so good for me because I was shy, you know, and I didn't take to this naturally. She's just like, oh, you know, just do it. What are you afraid of? She was great. She gave me a lot of confidence in myself when I had very little.

NORRIS: Now, many people will find it surprising that it wasn't your father who taught you how to play the guitar.

Ms. CASH: No. It was Helen Carter, June's sister. She - they were all on the road. Carl Perkins was on the road as well. So, it was this great show, lot of time in the dressing rooms. And Carl would show me something, you know, but he didn't have much time for a 19-year-old girl learning how to play the guitar. It's Carl Perkins. But Helen really put in the hours with me. She taught me the whole Carter Family lexicon.

And she taught these songs to me in a way to say this is yours. Keep this alive. You can do this. You know, it wasn't like this is something pretty to look at over here. It was like, take this.

NORRIS: It's a gift.

Ms. CASH: It's a gift and please keep it alive.

NORRIS: Rosanne, thank you so much.

Ms. CASH: Thank you.

NORRIS: It has been so wonderful to be here with you tonight.

Ms. CASH: Thank you. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: Michele Norris speaking last weekend in Seattle with Rosanne Cash.

And it was obvious on stage that night that the musical gift would continue for at least one more generation when during her performance, Cash surprised the audience by inviting her daughter Chelsea Crowell on stage. The two, she said, had never performed together but they played a song by Chelsea, who represents the third generation of songwriters in the Cash family.

(Soundbite of song, "Better than Her")

Ms. CHELSEA CROWELL (Singer): (Singing) And now the bells have rung and all is done, the tin cans were drug down the road. And now I have learned that you were sure, and I'll forever wish that I was her. And I've seen the rain, and I know, I know the days, but she, she won't love you the way that I do. But she won't love you the way that I do.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.