Cash-ing In: Cooper-Young tunes up to honor Johnny Cash

Leigh Weiner’s iconic photo of Cash will serve as inspiration for the planned monument.

Leigh Weiner’s iconic photo of Cash will serve as inspiration for the planned monument.

By Mike McCarthy and Chip Armstrong

In December 1954, Johnny Cash, Marshall Grant, and Luther Perkins stepped into the Galloway United Methodist Church on the corner of Cooper and Walker in the historic Cooper-Young neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee, to play their first paid performance together for a women’s church function.

And the rest, they say, is music history.

That’s right. Our own Cooper-Young neighborhood helped launch the career of Johnny Cash!

Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two would go on to take the world by storm, but it all began here. Memphis is full of such stories and locations like the old Galloway Church (now Cooper Walker Place) and the neighborhoods that contain them. These neighborhood events are crucial — yet unrecognized — chapters of the Memphis music narrative.

A new group called Legacy Memphis, whose motto is “every neighborhood has a hero”, aims to address this by working with neighborhoods to celebrate their own unique pieces of the story. Due to the vibrancy of our community, it’s only natural that Cooper-Young take the lead in this project, beginning with the Johnny Cash Tribute Project, which includes an historic statue and marker.

I am sure many recall when this was first discussed earlier this year in the Lamplighter. Indeed, many neighbors, the Cooper-Young Business Association, and Cooper-Young Community Association have already generously contributed time and money to the cause. (Thank you!)

Since the spring, much of the groundwork has been prepared.

The Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes College has sought and obtained permission to use an iconic Johnny Cash photo from the Leigh Wiener estate as inspiration for the monument.

Bill Beckwith has been selected as the sculptor. Mr. Beckwith — who has a studio on the outskirts of Oxford, Mississippi, and has designed and built widely acclaimed statues of Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, B.B. King, and others — has agreed to sculpt a 7-foot tall statue and mount the finished bronze figure on a 3-foot pedestal.

Cooper-Walker Place has graciously agreed to make provision for the statue and historic marker to be installed adjacent to the historic church.

Cooper-Young’s own Bemis Atkins, the prominent architect who designed the beautiful gazebo and plaza area at the corner of Cooper and Young, has agreed to design and supervise the construction of a lovely plaza to house the statue.

The entire project will cost about $125,000 and we’ve already raised over $20,000 on Ioby, a neighborhood-friendly crowd-sourcing website. While we are seeking donors from throughout the world, we want to give our Memphis neighbors a chance to participate, too.

Our next fundraiser is a brick campaign. We are offering inscribed bricks for donations of $200, $400, and $3,000. However, to neighbors living in Midtown 38104, we are offering the $200 brick for only $104 through December 31st, 2015. If you wish to purchase a brick at any level please visit

Think about it. For a donation of only $104 each, you, your spouse, all your kids, and grandkids (even your dog) can get their name permanently inscribed on a brick in the plaza walkway in front of what’s going to be the coolest statue in Memphis and an international destination.

And just in time for Christmas! Seriously, who wouldn’t want their spouse to present them with their very own brick (or certificate thereof) on Christmas morning?

Please visit our IOBY fundraising website — — to donate to the Johnny Cash statue and marker or feel free to contact Chip Armstrong at or Mike McCarthy at

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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