When Rosanne Cash was 18 years old, her dad offered some advice in the form of a list.
That was 40 years ago, long after most teenagers have discarded such tips passed along by a parent.
But this wasn’t your average list. And Cash’s father wasn’t an average dad.
The legendary Johnny Cash had compiled 100 essential songs he thought his daughter ought to know, and Rosanne Cash paid tribute to her famous father and his musical tastes with her 2009 album “The List.” The tunes on record will be featured tonight when Cash takes the stage at TD Arena for a one-night-only Spoleto Festival USA appearance.
“The List,” and the list from which it draws, “is an overview of American roots music and the songs that are important and representative of American roots music,” Cash said.
John Leventhal, Cash’s husband and the producer of the album, said she was always hesitant about capitalizing on her father’s fame and hadn’t intended to record the list.
“It’s not something she would have done on her own,” Leventhal said. “I pushed her to do it. She has never wanted to exploit her father’s legacy.”
When she finally did decide to experiment with the list, which included artists ranging from Elvis Costello to Bruce Springsteen, she and Leventhal went song by song to see which ones she was most comfortable with vocally as well as lyrically. They worked hard to make sure she wasn’t just recreating the tunes but rather re-imagining them.
“Sometimes it is challenging to find the door into the song to make it our own,” Cash said. “And sometimes it’s very natural. The Carter Family song (“Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow”) I stepped into very naturally because I have known that song my entire adult life.”
With 11 No. 1 singles, Cash “is very much a songwriter,” said Danny Kahn, her manager for almost 18 years. Her songs have a timeless quality that most listeners can relate to, even if the music is not familiar to them, he said. “She translates personal experiences into relatable experiences. The beauty of Rosanne is that she is deep. There is a combination of talent and voice tied into lineage.”
Might Cash make a list of songs for her children? Some of the tunes on her father’s list could make her own, but certainly not all. She has grown up in a different time and place and would find room for artists such as Neil Young and The Beatles.
Kahn, for one, would like to see Rosanne Cash’s own material on it. “I would hope she would be proud enough to put songs that she wrote on her list,” he said. “She deserves that recognition.”
Alyssa Nappa is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.