Johnny Cash was a pioneer of American music, whose career spanned decades. A singer-songwriter and an accomplished guitar player, Cash blurred the lines between genres. Listen to his entire catalog and you’ll hear rock and roll, folk, gospel, blues, and more. He drew inspiration from many sources and is still influential more than fifteen years after his death.
Many people only know Cash’s outlaw persona from the beginning of his career. That persona doesn’t make him seem like an appropriate choice for a funeral. But many people connect to the pain and truth they find in Cash’s music.
Tip: Creating a funeral playlist might be just one of the tasks you're undertaking for the very first time after the loss of a loved one. Our post-loss checklist can help you navigate the intricacies of loss.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Best Johnny Cash Songs for Your Parents' or Grandparents' Funeral
- Best Joyful Johnny Cash Songs for a Funeral
- Best Sorrowful Johnny Cash Songs for a Funeral
Some even think that his trials helped make his music better. It certainly provided him with powerful source material for his work. If you’re planning the funeral, virtual funeral, or memorial slideshow for a Johnny Cash fan, many of his recordings make for perfect funeral songs.
COVID-19 tip: If you're hosting a Zoom funeral using a service like GatheringUs, make sure to test your audio beforehand, so online and virtual guests can enjoy the playlist together.
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Best Johnny Cash Songs for Your Parents' or Grandparents' Funeral
If your parents or grandparents were big Johnny Cash fans consider a song from his early career. Or a song from when he cleaned up his act and began writing religious pieces. Regardless of which genre of Johnny they liked, there is a song to honor their memory.
1. “Amazing Grace” from "Johnny Cash Sings Precious Memories"
This traditional hymn can, in the wrong hands, be overly sentimental. As one of the most enduring songs about death, it’s hard to put a new spin on it. But Cash’s booming bass-baritone voice strips it of all artifice. It’s a simple and moving version.
2. Bridge Over Troubled Water” from "American IV: The Man Comes Around"
Cash’s cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s iconic track could be a good choice for your needs. Background vocals by Fiona Apple add a lightness and sweetness to Cash’s deep vocals.
3. “Wayfaring Stranger” from "American III: Solitary Man"
Also known as “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and “I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger”. This American gospel and folk song has been covered by many well-known artists. Cash produced his version later in life, but that only contributes to its road-weary feel.
4. “Daddy Sang Bass” from "The Holy Land"
A man remembers his family singing together during hard times. Now alone in the world, he is able to cope with his grief by reminding himself that he will sing with them again in Heaven.
5. “Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie” from "Johnny Cash Sings the Ballads of the True West"
This old cowboy song has many iterations. In Cash’s version, a dying young man doesn’t get his choice of a final resting place. The song is a good reminder to honor people’s wishes when you lay them to rest.
6. “Ring of Fire” from "Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash"
June Carter and Merle Kilgore wrote what might be Cash’s most beloved song. It explores how falling in love with Cash made Carter feel. It’s a touching song to play for someone who was a devoted partner.
7. “Peace in the Valley” from "At San Quentin"
Johnny Cash’s reverence for gospel is on full display in this cover of a Mahalia Jackson classic. This song celebrates finding peace in death.
8. “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven” from "My Mother’s Hymn Book"
If you’re looking for funeral songs for mom, this one has a beautiful sentiment. The message that separation is not permanent is an important one. And can help remind everyone that separation during life is only temporary. After death, you will be reunited.
9. “Man In Black” from "Man In Black"
Cash earned the moniker “The Man In Black” because of the way he dressed. In this song, he explains his choice. He wears it as a symbol of mourning.
And to show that he stands in solidarity with those who are suffering. This song goes beyond mourning the dead. It reminds us that death is not the only struggle.
10. “Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down” from "American VI: Ain’t No Grave"
Cash returned to gospel classics many times during his career. Cash’s cover of this traditional gospel tune was released posthumously. It is the perfect marriage of his deep religious beliefs and his outlaw vibes. If anyone can refuse to be kept down by death, it’s Johnny Cash
Best Joyful Johnny Cash Songs for a Funeral
Most people think of Johnny Cash as a brooding outlaw or a somber elder. But he had a sense of humor and a positive outlook, as shown in these tracks.
11. “I Walk the Line” from "Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar"
Inspired by Cash’s marriage to his first wife this song featured on Cash’s debut album. It addressed how he planned to stay faithful and devoted to her. That promise didn’t last. Cash and first wife Vivian Liberto divorced in 1966 after twelve years of marriage.
Two years later, he married June Carter. But this sublime tune remains one of his all-time greatest works. And it celebrates love in a way that many can connect with.
12. “We’ll Meet Again” from "American IV: The Man Comes Around"
Vera Lynn made this 1939 song famous. In the years since it was written, it’s been played at many a funeral. Its upbeat message about seeing those you love again is appropriate for any service.
13. “In the Sweet By and By” from "Johnny Cash Sings Precious Memories"
Casual Johnny Cash fans might not realize how many religious songs he did over the years. His take on this Christian hymn is a joyous and celebratory tune sure to make you tap your feet. And the message of meeting your loved one somewhere special will resonate.
14. “Happy To Be With You” from "Happiness Is You"
Everyone knows about the love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. This tune, which they co-wrote with Merle Kilgore, is all about how simple things can fill you with joy.
15. “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” from "Hymns by Johnny Cash"
Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman, wrote this around 1865. Its lyrics could refer to freed slaves reuniting with friends and families in the North.
But its other interpretation that “heaven” is home makes it a popular choice for funerals. Either way you interpret it, there is always a deep joy that accompanies it.
Best Sorrowful Johnny Cash Songs for a Funeral
Johnny Cash was a multifaceted artist. Not only did he write rock and roll songs, but he also produced songs that showed his sensitivity. Listen to these to gain insight into his introspective and sorrowful side.
16. “Hurt” from "American IV: The Man Comes Around"
The band Nine Inch Nails wrote this song. It deals with dark themes like depression, self-harm, and addiction. These were all topics that Cash personally related to. The music video was shot by frequent Nine Inch Nails collaborator Mark Romanek.
It was filmed in the derelict House of Cash museum in Nashville. The setting added an eerie quality to one of the last recordings Cash made.
17. “I See A Darkness” from "American III: Solitary Man"
This song is a cover of a track by Will Oldham ( AKA Bonnie “Prince” Billy) who also provides background vocals. Dark lyrics combined with simple guitar make this a classic Cash song. Its message of friendship protecting someone from darkness will ring true for many people.
18. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” from "Sunday Morning Coming Down"
The rhythm might seem jaunty, but the lyrics of this song are sad. The tempo distracts from the themes of addiction and loneliness. Consider this song if you want to convey how much losing someone will affect you.
19. “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” from "The Fabulous Johnny Cash"
This song is about the folly of youth and how it can easily turn to tragedy. In his hurry to become a man, the song’s protagonist heads down to the pub. He takes his guns even though his mom begged him to leave them behind. After a few drinks, he provokes a gunfight and ends up dead. The song still resonates today.
20. “The Long Black Veil” from "Orange Blossom Special"
This song is about a man with a peculiar sense of honor. He allows himself to die for a murder he didn’t commit. That way he won’t have to tell anyone he was having an affair with his best friend’s wife. After his death, his lover grieves late at night in her long black veil. Perhaps a less popular choice, but the message of mourning a lost love is universal.
Choosing the Right Johnny Cash Memorial Service Songs
Regardless of your need, Johnny Cash’s discography has something for you. Cash wrote and covered so many songs you should be able to find one that fits the occasion.
If you're looking for more recommendations, check out our picks for the best country funeral songs or the best country songs about death.