The River & the Thread, 2012

The River & the Thread, 2012

Natalie and Rosanne Cash first meet in 2009 through their friend Ann Tenenbaum. Rosanne’s passionate embrace of her life’s work, her poetic gifts of language and song, and her innate creativity have long been a source of inspiration and joy for Natalie. The two soul sisters have visited, traveled, sipped tea, dyed fabric—and hair—and enjoyed one another’s company for over a decade.

From Rosanne: 

“Natalie and I have a mutual friend, Ann Tenenbaum, and about 15 years ago, Ann said to me, ‘You have to meet Natalie Chanin. You two are like the same person.’ I was already an admirer of Natalie’s. I could spend an hour or more at that one little rack devoted to Project Alabama at Barneys New York, in awe and wonder at who made such incredible articles of clothing. They belonged in a museum, I thought. (As I was writing this, I had a sudden longing to see some of the old Project Alabama pieces, went online and saw a t-shirt a woman had ‘found in the back of her mother’s closet’ and bought it.)

Ann had some Project Alabama pieces, and she let me borrow a long peach-colored skirt for an event. Again, she said, ‘You have to meet Natalie. You two are like sisters.’

We finally met for the first time in New York, when she was in the city for a trunk sale. She came to my house, and we sat on my little kitchen sofa and talked as if we had known each other for a lifetime. We talked as if we had been waiting for the other to show up. There was no subject off limits, and it seemed that there was no secret we wouldn’t share. Our adventure began.

In 2012, my husband John and I took a long trip through the Delta. We started in Greenwood, Mississippi, and visited some of the great geographical touchstones of the South: the grave of Robert Johnson (the Father of the Blues), Dockery Farms and the Tallahatchie Bridge in Mississippi, my father’s boyhood home in Arkansas, FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, and other places that were part of musical lore, part of my own Southern history, or places in the South that John and I had dreamed of seeing and soaking up. I had a complicated relationship with the South: there was so much I loved, and so much I felt oppressed by, so much I wanted to embrace, and so much I needed to free myself from. John and I were headed further South on our road trip, to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but first we went to Florence to see Natalie. We had dinner with her, and the next day we went to The Factory so that Natalie could give me a quick sewing lesson. I wanted to start work on an Alabama Chanin kit, even though I hadn’t embroidered or sewed in decades.

We sat at one of the long tables in her gorgeous workspace,  and John took out his phone to make a little video of our sewing lesson. Natalie took the needle, threaded it, and then stroked the threads to smooth them out. ‘You have to love the thread,’ she said casually. I felt my eyes well with tears. All the questions about my Southern heritage, the threads I had to break, the threads I loved or would learn to love— all the questions that had been weighing on my heart, and rumbling in my subconscious, started to surface. Natalie took me to Tom Hendrix’s ‘Magic Wall’ in Florence, and as I sat on the stone bench in the middle of the circle of stones, totems, and sacred objects, I closed my eyes and felt something was meditating me, instead of the other way around.

My trip with John continued, and the songs started coming. We wrote a song called ‘A Feather’s Not a Bird’, about our urgent journey through the South, and I slipped Natalie’s quiet advice right into a verse. I wrote about finding the light inside my own head, about pretty clothes and magic walls, and about learning to Love the Thread. The song led to more songs, and became an album, called The River and The Thread. It won three Grammys in 2015. The acclaim was wonderful, but more than that, it was a catharsis and a settling of internal rivalries through the power of art, music, and friendship, a deep dive into history, both personal and cultural, and my own way of reckoning with all the threads that have broken, and the strong ones that remain and grow stronger in my own life. It all began with an urgent journey to touch the past, and a willingness to love the questions about the people and places I wanted to love and those I wanted to run from, but the questions would never have been asked, and the answers would never have seemed so real, if I had not met my soul sister, and she had not pointed the way. I owe Natalie a lifetime of gratitude.”

—Rosanne Cash, singer, songwriter, author

“A Feather’s Not a Bird”

Written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal

I’m going down to Florence, gonna wear a pretty dress

Sit atop the magic wall with the voices in my head

Then I’ll drive on through to Memphis, past the strongest shoals 

And on to Arkansas just to touch the gumbo soul

A feather’s not a bird

The rain is not the sea

A stone is not a mountain 

But a river runs through me

There’s never any highway when you're looking for the past 

The land becomes a memory and it happens way too fast 

The money’s all in Nashville but the light’s inside my head

So I’m going down to Florence just to learn to love the thread

A feather’s not a bird

The rain is not the sea

A stone is not a mountain

But a river runs through me

I burned up seven lives and I used up all my charms

I took the long way home just to end up in your arms

So I’m going down to Florence, now I’ve got my pretty dress 

I’m gonna let the magic wall put the voices in my head

A feather’s not a bird

The rain is not the sea

A stone is not a mountain 

But a river runs through me

Purchase The River and the Thread here

Learn more about Rosanne Cash here and follow along @mrslev.

Learn more about John Leaventhal here and follow along @johnleaventhal.

Explore their tour dates here

Get a signed copy of Composed here

Learn more about The School of Making collaboration with Rosanne here

Order a copy of Bird on a Blade here.

Among their many common shared loves, Rosanne and Natalie’s beloved fathers share a birthday—born exactly a decade apart. Rosanne’s book, Composed, is one of Natalie’s favorite reads and she was once observed weeping uncontrollably in a boarding lounge at the Berlin Brandenburg Airport while reading her copy of this inspiring work. “It’s just so beautiful,” she replied to her traveling companion when asked, “What’s wrong?”

Slide 1: Interior spread of Rosanne Cash’s 2014 album The River & The Thread, photograph by Robert Rausch

Slide 2: The River & The Thread album cover and CD by Rosanne Cash, 2014, photograph by Robert Rausch

Slide 3: The Rosanne Coat in the Sylvan design from Alabama Chanin’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection, photograph by Abraham Rowe

Slide 4: Rosanne Cash being photographed by Danny Clinch, after winning three GRAMMYs at the 57th annual GRAMMY Awards for her 2014 album The River & The Thread at the 57th annual GRAMMY Awards, photograph by Danny Kahn; Rosanne wears a jacket version of her Angie’s Fall Swing Coat, photograph by Robert Rausch; Rosanne’s Angie’s Fall Swing Coat, photograph by Robert Rausch

Slide 5: Rosanne Cash performing with her husband, John Leventhal, at the Newcastle SummerTyne Americana Festival, Rosanne is wearing a custom designed jacket version of her Facets Swing Coat with accent beading, photograph by Sam Rayner; Rosanne’s Facets Swing Coat with accent beading, photograph by Robert Rausch

Slide 6: Custom Alabama Chanin Swing Jackets from Rosanne Cash’s personal stage collection, photograph by Robert Rausch

Slide 7: Rosanne Cash and Natalie Chanin at a trunk show for famed jewelry designer Renee Lewis, hosted by their mutual friend, Lisa Fox at her home in New York City; Natalie and Rosanne wear Shake necklaces by Renee Lewis

Slide 8: Note to Natalie from Rosanne, inscribed inside Natalies’s beloved copy of Rosanne’s memoir, Composed

Slide 9: Still from Brand USA’s “Land of Dreams” video with Rosanne Cash, filmed in Dumbo, Brooklyn, 2022; Rosanne wears an Anna’s Garden Swing Coat by Alabama Chanin