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60 years ago: When a young Johnny Cash played Appleton

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Hawaii had just been admitted as the 50th state. In Appleton, the youthful side of the community awaited the arrival of a country superstar.

Johnny Cash was 27 years old when he rolled into Appleton on Aug. 22, 1959 for two shows at the Cinderella Ballroom located at 2215 S. Oneida St.

The Post-Crescent ran a photo of the performer not yet known as the Man in Black in their next edition, noting Cash played to packed houses and performed three 30-minute sets during the evening of dancing.

Cash was no up-and-comer at the point of his Appleton performances. Though he wasn’t yet the icon who would go on to earn inductions in the country, rock and roll and gospel halls of fame.

Cash had signed with Sun Records in 1955 and his debut 1957 album carried some of the best known works of his lengthy career including “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” He left Sun for a lucrative deal with Columbia Records in 1958.

Two days prior to the Appleton gigs, he was a guest on the Jimmie Rodgers Show on NBC where he performed “I Got Stripes” and “Gotta Travel On.”

In Appleton, the Cinderella Ballroom was a center of live entertainment at the time. 

The ballroom, which opened in 1925, was known for its wooden dance floor and most frequently staged polka acts from the local and regional to the top names in the genre. 

It stood across Oneida from where the Maple Tree Pancake House serves up breakfast today.

In addition to its dance offerings, the ballroom catered to the youth of Appleton and reeled in some now legendary names in the late 1950s.

Bobby Darin played the Cinderella on March 22, 1959. 

The venue was scheduled for a Feb. 1, 1959 matinee of the ill-fated Winter Dance Party. Severe winter weather in northern Wisconsin halted the troupe and Appleton’s show was the lone cancellation on the entire tour. Two days later, the musical landscape tragically changed when performers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash en route to a performance in Iowa.

On Feb. 12, 1958, the Everly Brothers performed at the Cinderella. Danny and the Juniors performed there on March 16, 1958.

Following Appleton, Cash headed to Monticello, Ill. for his final two performances of August 1959 — both at the Jones County Fair.

The Cinderella Ballroom shows were Johnny Cash’s lone two performances in Appleton, though he played several other shows in the region.

He performed at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1972. Cash played the Outagamie County Fair in Seymour on July 14, 1983 and again on July 16, 1988.

Cash played a private function in Neenah on May 5, 1994. He would return to perform at Neenah’s Pickard Auditorium on Dec. 12, 1996. 

His daughter, Rosanne Cash, performed at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

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