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Celebrate Johnny Cash today: wear black

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  Johnny Cash: The Man in Black

To celebrate the birthday of Johnny Cash, who would've turned 78 today, American Recordings and his family are encouraging fans to wear black in honor of the singer universally known as "The Man in Black."

It's been just over six years since the outlaw country legend passed away, but his legacy still reigns, evidenced on American VI: Ain't No Grave, released this week, which is the sixth and final installment of the singer's collaborations with producer Rick Rubin and American Recordings.

Recorded during the final months of his life while battling illness and mourning the loss of his wife June Carter, Cash sounds frail on many of the tracks but still retains his rebelliousness, most stark on the title track where he repeats the phrase "ain't no grave can hold my body down."

The projects with Rubin began in 1994 with the release of American Recordings, and are credited with introducing a new generation of fans to Cash. The Grammy winning album featured the singer in a completely stripped down fashion performing his own songs as well as tracks by Tom Waits, Nick Lowe and even Glenn Danzig.

The formula worked wonders for the singer's career, which had been withering away for some time, and the minimalist style suited the aging Cash much better than his earlier works. The American Records also serve as an audio diary to the Man in Black's later years.

Also getting some legs right now is a movement afoot by Cash fans and some members of his family to have the 1964 protest album, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, re-released by Sony Records.

The work addressed the struggles facing Native Americans, which was a deeply personal issue to Cash, who was said to be one quarter Cherokee. But Bitter Tears received zero support from the label and radio when it was released, prompting the singer to take out a full page ad in Billboard magazine where he lambasted the radio industry.

"DJs - station managers - owners, etc., where are your guts?" he called out at one point in the ad.

And while the CD is available and can be found on iTunes, it isn't on the schedule for the massive re-issue project that Sony Legacy has undertaken in the past few years, churning out expanded and remastered editions of such classics as At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin along with various rarities collections.

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