In 1964, country singer Johnny Cash released Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, a tribute to and meditation on the Native American experience. At the time, Cash believed he had Cherokee ancestry, although genealogical research he conducted later in his life showed this wasn't the case. Nonetheless, the album stands as a highlight of his career, and arguably the greatest musical statement a non-Native has ever made about the trials and tribulations of American Indians.
(Other efforts in the category fall woefully short — peruse our list of Hard Rockin' Tributes to Indians at your own risk.)
Fifty years later, a host of notable country and Americana artists have come together to re-record the work, which includes "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," a track that went to No. 3 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. The album, Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited, features such well-known artists as Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Bill Miller, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Norman and Nancy Blake. The Milk Carton Kids and Rhiannon Giddens are also featured, lending a considerably younger flair to the proceedings.
Joe Henry, a Grammy winner for his work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Solomon Burke, handled production duties for Look Again to the Wind. "Prior to Bitter Tears, the conversation about Native American rights had not really been had," says Henry, according to a press release. "And at a very significant moment in his trajectory, Johnny Cash was willing to draw a line and insist that this be considered a human rights issue, alongside the civil rights issue that was coming to fruition in 1964. But he also felt that the record had never been heard, so there's a real sense that we're being asked to carry it forward."
Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited is slated for an August 19 release on the Sony Masterworks label. The tracklisting is as follows:
1. "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow" – feat. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
2. "Apache Tears" – feat. Emmylou Harris w/The Milk Carton Kids
3. "Custer" – feat. Steve Earle w/The Milk Carton Kids
4. "The Talking Leaves" – feat. Nancy Blake w/ Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
5. "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" – feat. Kris Kristofferson w/ Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
6. "Drums" – feat. Norman Blake w/ Nancy Blake, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
7. "Apache Tears (Reprise)" – feat. Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
8. "White Girl" – feat. The Milk Carton Kids
9. "The Vanishing Race" – feat. Rhiannon Giddens
10. "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow (Reprise)" – feat. Nancy Blake, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
11. "Look Again to The Wind" – feat. Bill Miller