Before his ties to daughter Miley Cyrus' run as Hannah Montana or his record-breaking "Old Town Road" collaboration with Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus shook up the country music charts in 1992 as the mullet-rocking singer of "Achy Breaky Heart."
Cyrus caught the ire of gatekeepers with his vision of what the term "country artist" could mean in a new decade. Just like many today lose sleep over the stylistic choices of Sam Hunt and Luke Bryan, a segment of the country audience in 1992 saw Cyrus as too far a cry from Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and other foundational acts.
Of course, Parton is a family friend and Miley's godmother, so she must not have been too addled by one of the line dancing revival's breakout stars. Likewise, Cash sent Cyrus a hand-written letter during "Achy Breaky Heart's" breakout year which thanked Cyrus for his Christian testimony and encouraged him to ignore all the naysayers.
"I was very impressed recently to hear you give God the credit for your success," Cash wrote in a letter dated June 12, 1992. "It's good to be reminded where all goodness comes from."
The letter, which occasionally makes the rounds online, goes on to liken the backlash against Cyrus' music to that faced by Elvis Presley himself.
"Thirty-six years ago, I was working with Elvis and saw him take the same kind of flak you're taking now," Cash wrote. "Congratulations on the way you're handling it all. In your case, as in Elvis', the good outweighs the bad. Let 'em have it. I'm in your corner."
Cyrus has reflected fondly over years about Cash's words of encouragement.
"Everything was going crazy, so you can imagine what a letter from Johnny Cash meant to me at the time," Cyrus says in a press release for the 20th anniversary of his 1992 album Some Gave All. "I thought, 'If Johnny Cash says he's in my corner, then I guess everything's going to be all right.' Nothing else mattered."
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Cyrus also received words of encouragement earlier in his career from another Tennessee rock 'n' roller with ties to Cash and Presley.
"[Carl Perkins] said, 'Hoss, just do what you do. Make your music, don't be following anyone who says you have to sound like everyone else. That's the main thing: Be original,'" Cyrus says in a press release. "Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash told me the same thing. All these years and all this turbulence later, I'm glad I listened."
Cyrus has remained grounded by his humility and faith in the years since 1992, with almighty God getting the credit when "Old Town Road" earned the country singer multiple shelves-full of industry awards.
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