Over the years I’ve written about the wonderful murals painted by Memphis artist Maysie Dimond at Ellis Auditorium. She first gained local, and even national, attention in 1937 when she painted a portrait of the newly founded Dyess Colony in Arkansas, about an hour from Memphis. This little community was a resettlement program, funded by the federal government, and designed to provide housing for farmers who had pretty much been wiped out during the Depression. Many families got a fresh start there, and one of them was the Cash family, and one of their boys was named Johnny.
Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Actually, at the time, he was known only as “J.R.” The story goes that he didn’t adopt the name Johnny until he signed his first recording contract. I don’t know if that’s true, but what IS true is that, sure enough, he called himself J.R. Cash in high school, because the Lauderdale Library contains a rare 1948 yearbook of the Dyess Colony School. And here, as he looked in his sophomore year, is the young Johnny Cash. At the time, he seemed to favor white t-shirts; the “Man in Black” look would come later.