Several generations of country music stars called Billy Graham a friend, father figure, savior and collaborator. The late evangelist even helped scratch a country music album during his 99 years of life.
Graham's relationship with Johnny Cash is the most public friendship he had in country music, but a smattering of reactions to his death on Wednesday (Feb. 21) show he'd earned nothing but respect from superstars like Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Randy Travis and Charlie Daniels. Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley even name-checked him in hit songs — McGraw with "Southern Voice" in 2009 and Paisley with "Southern Comfort Zone" in 2013. Joe Nichols liked an original song called "Billy Graham's Bible" so much he released it on two separate albums!
Wynonna Judd called Graham the father she'd never had during her passage in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me. "He is one of the few people I trust and respect," she wrote in the 2013 release. "My ability to believe what he says is absolute. There is no veil of secrecy. He has lived honestly and freely. It's the way I want to live."
Upon Glen Campbell's death in 2017, Graham's son, Franklin Graham, spoke with personal reverence for the country singer's relationship with God, adding that his father knew the "Rhinestone Cowboy." More contemporary artists like RaeLynn, Josh Turner and Hillary Scott also shared a kind word about Graham after learning news of his death. The North Carolina native's influence transcended generations.
But it's his friendship with Cash that was most famous. The two men — and by extension, their families — were friends for decades, with the Man and Black speaking and performing at Graham's crusades on more than one occasion, joyfully talking about his relationship with God and Baptist upbringing. An article in the USA Today recalls Cash talking about how he felt comfortable sharing his most personal secrets with Graham, and that even when he returned to using pills, the evangelist crusader stood by him. Musically they'd collaborate on the song "The Preacher Said, Jesus Said," from Cash's 1971 album Man in Black. Cash says it was Graham who freed him to begin including more spiritual messages in his country music.
In 2008, several country stars participated in the soundtrack for the movie Billy: The Early Years. Alan Jackson, Turner, Sara Evans, Brooks & Dunn and Paisley were among those who took part. Turner also had a role in the movie.