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Johnny Cash Got His Start with GI Bill

February 28, 2012

Is it impossible to use your G.I. Bill benefits for something completely extraordinary? These four musicians proved that you could do anything with your G.I. Bill, and you definitely don’t have to take the traditional route. Some of the greatest tales told in music came from an inspiring moment in the Armed Forces.

The G.I. Bill means so much to service men and women. It’s the ability to buy a house after you leave service, go to school or get started on an entirely different career. In the past, some famous musicians also used their G.I. Bills to get their careers started, such as Johnny Cash. The first G.I. Bill was signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. The bill offered valuable unemployment compensation for veterans as well as home loans. In addition, they received money for college education. In 2008, this bill was revamped to expand the benefits to pay for full college tuition, give a housing allowance and a stipend of $1,000 for books. For Johnny Cash, this money became his livelihood after he served an airman in the U.S. Air Force.

Cash was stationed in San Antonio when he began playing guitar. He began writing “Folsom Prison Blues” during this period. Once out of service, he used his G.I. Bill to study broadcasting while playing in a country trio band on the side. A year later, he had his first hit called “Cry Cry Cry.” The G.I. Bill offered Cash a chance to get started on something entirely different, and he became successful because of his amazing ability.

Tito Puente is a lesser known name than Cash but not in Latin music. As a drummer, Puente was an incredible musician. He recorded over 100 hundred albums over the course of his life, wrote 400 songs and also brought in 4 Grammy’s while he was still in the game. As a composer and bandleader, he was also a famous percussionist with different instruments. He was drafted and served in the Navy. When he was discharged, he used the G.I. Bill to study at Juilliard, soon becoming the king of mambo.

The Navy had another young inspiring artist named Harry Belafonte. Also a singer and musician, as well as actor, Belafonte was known for his smooth voice and playing with the Charlie Parker band, backed up by Max Roach and Miles Davis. He became one of the most popular singers in the country. He was also noted for being quite handsome and even got into hot water by being touched by a white woman on television. He served in World War II and was able to use his G.I. Bill to enroll in the drama department at the New York School for Social Research, where he studied with Walter Maltheau, Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur.

Finally, Dave Brubeck has been known in many circles for his incredible jazz piano playing. His song “Take Five” off the album Time Out is one of the best known jazz records in the world. Even as old as he is, he still plays jazz and has helped out plenty of jazz musicians along the way. He served in the army and used his G.I. Bill to study at Mills College, alongside the famous Darius Milhaud. He wanted to study veterinary medicine to help his family on a cattle ranch, but eventually, he simply stuck to music, something he was amazing at already.

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