Abraham, Martin and John
by Dion

Album: Dion (1968)
Charted: 4
  • songfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • This song is a tribute to those involved in the battle for civil rights. The title refers to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last verse in the song refers to "Bobby" - JFK's brother, Robert Kennedy. Everyone mentioned in the song has died ("has anybody here seen my old friend...") and this is symbolized by their progression over a hill.
  • This has been covered by the Brothers Four, Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Mahalia Jackson, and Moms Mabley. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brett - Edmonton, Canada, for above 2
  • This was written by the rockabilly singer Dick Holler (who also wrote the novelty hit "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron"). Dion had just recovered from heroin addiction and was offered this as a possible comeback song. It made it to #4 on the Hot 100 and reestablished Dion in the music business.
  • Bob Dylan performed this on his 1980-81 tour. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Marti - Lynnwood, WA, for above 2
  • Whitney Houston covered this song at her 1997 Washington DC concert, "Classic Whitney." It was filmed and turned into an HBO special. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    David - NYC, NY
  • Initially, Dion detested the song, but he has since come to understand its legacy, telling one interviewer, "I realized that what these four guys had in common was a dream... It was like they had the courage to believe that a state of love really can exist."
  • Dion claimed to have received over 4,000 letters thanking him for recording this song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
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Comments: 45

  • Bill from Black Diamond, WashingtonDion . . . now and then

    Dion DiMucci (b. 1939) was raised in the Bronx by Italian-American parents.

    Teaming with Italian friends from Belmont Avenue, Dion and the Belmonts scored their first hit in 1958 with “I Wonder Why.”

    During the 1959 winter concert tour with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper; the bus’s heating system gave out so Holly charted a plane to their next venue. Dion balked at paying $36 for the flight because it was the amount his parents struggled to pay in rent each month when he was growing up. The plane crashed, killing all onboard.

    Dion split from the Belmonts in 1960, pursuing a solo career with hits like “Run-Around Sue” and “Donna.” The B-side of one single, “The Wanderer,” raced to the top after the A-side failed to chart.

    In 1963 Brian Wilson composed the Beach Boy’s ballad, “Surfer Girl,” after constantly humming Dion’s rendition of song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from the Disney movie Pinocchio. It was Wilson’s very first composition.

    With changing tastes from the British Invasion and a growing heroin addiction, Dion started recording blues songs in the mid-1960s. His records failed to sell and he lost his record contract.

    Dion was one of only two rock artists to appear on the cover of the Beatles’ 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Bob Dylan was the other.

    In April 1968, Dion experienced a powerful religious experience. He gave up heroin and his label agreed to re-sign him if he’d record “Abraham, Martin and John.” The single was released that August, reaching #4 on the charts in October. It was written by Dick Holler, who earlier wrote the Royal Guardsman’s novelty song, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron.”

    Three years later, Los Angeles disc jockey Tom Clay produced a single that combined recordings of “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Abraham, Martin and John,” with soundbites and excerpts from speeches. The song was a surprise hit, rising to #8 on the Billboard charts in August 1971. It was my favorite song the summer after graduating from high school.

    In the 1980s, Dion became a born-again Christian, releasing five albums highlighting his evangelical convictions.

    In 2011, a reading of a new play called “The Wanderer” was performed in New York. Dion promoted the musical but it’s yet to be produced. A recent staging at the Baryshnikov Theater drew a packed house and may prompt a Broadway production.
  • Franny-mae from No.carolina DisplacedMy question is...Why does no one give any importance to the mention of DAVID NIVEN? What correlation did he have to the writer? David was a wonderful man,actor and author who died a very sad death, bravely, of ALS. But WHY is he included in this song? What's the rest of the meaning there? Does everyone just skip over that? He's included in there for a REASON! As best I know, he didn't die until 1988. So why is he in this song? Can anyone tell me? Or am I the only one listening to that version of the song?
  • Seattleguy from SeattleSince my initial post here, I see two additional people have stated that they had heard more than one version in 1968. This is good. Permit me to recap those in this thread who had heard more than one version in 1968:

    Jeff - Columbus, Oh - remembers a first version without Bobby.
    Michael Scott - Punta Gorda, Fl - remembers a first version without Martin and Bobby, a second version without Bobby.
    Seattleguy - Seattle (me) - remembers a first version without Bobby played back-to-back with the version with Bobby, plus DJ commentary.
    Dave - San Jose, Ca - remembers a first version without Bobby.
    Mavis - Upper Midwest - remembers a first version without Bobby.

    Mavis, I cannot find the first version on youtube. If that is what you meant, can you provide the specific link, please?
  • Mavis from Upper MidwestMe again. Check out You Tube. Barry, you rock.
  • Mavis from Upper MidwestI, too, recall a short-lived version released in the spring of 1968, just before RFK as shot. In fact, I came here to find out if anyone else had the same recollection. I distinctly remember the song being redone to include RFK. I just wish I could recall who recorded the original. I think Barry is right, but I can't verify it. (Barry, I'm a longtime lurker here, and admire your knowledge. I'm a former radio disc jockey with a good memory, but you have outdone me.)
  • Dave from San Jose, CaI have the exact same recollection as Seattleguy. I was 11 in 1968 and I recall hearing both versions on the radio in the small Northern California town where I was raised, although in have never heard the 2 version played back to back.
  • Seattleguy from SeattleI read with interest the comment from David-Zurich about an alleged previous version of this song. I have not seen the Al Pacino movie that he references so I don't know what was depicted there, but in 1968 I heard on the radio a version of Abraham, Martin, and John that did not include the verse with Bobby in it. It was played regularly on an overseas station (my father was in the military, the station was civilian) and long enough for me to learn the lyrics of this moving song. I was 12 years old. The lyrics contained only the three principals identified in the song title and did not have the verse about Bobby. It was played regularly if not briefly because it was not very long at all afterwards, not very long at all, that the news about Bobby came out, and very soon the song was played and now included the last verse about Bobby. The DJ played both versions back-to-back one day, and my memory today recalls the DJ commenting about the song being quickly rewritten as that was the point of playing them back-to-back. As a young boy this whole thing struck me as a solemn moment but I remember thinking how they were stuck with the song title being only three names and that Bobby would always look like an add-on to the song.

    All of these years since 1968 I have never heard anyone ever mention two versions yet I know I am not crazy. I will allow that the intervening years may have augmented my memory about anything the DJ may have said (I cannot recall any words anymore) but I do recall the two versions back-to-back on the radio, both sung by Dion, and I remember my thoughts at the time, thinking about Bobby relegated to being an add-on to a newly-released song, but what else could they do. Yet, online information indicates this song was released September 1968 and Bobby died the previous June. Those dates don't agree with my stated experience and I don't know what to say about that. If I had to guess, could it be possible that the September release date actually represented the rewritten version, and the release date of my "first version" is lost to history? I really don't know what to say but that I have carried this bit of trivia with me since I was 12 years old, never seeing any corroboration anywhere, ever.
  • David from ZurichA few corrections: Dick Holler wrote the entire song a few days after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated (in all of 20 minutes).
    The Phil Spector movie staring Al Pacino improperly implies a previous version existed before Bobby's assassination, and then was re-written afterwards. Per Dick Holler, Pacino's depiction of how the song was written is pure fiction; probably artistic license being exercised by the screenwriter of the Spector film.

    2nd correction: Dick Holler did not write 'Double Shot of My Baby's Love.' Although the original version was recorded by Dick's group, 'Dick Holler and the Holidays, the song was written by his bass man Don Smith and Cyril Vetter. It was later covered by the Swinging Medallions, who are now known for the definitive version.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 14th 1970, Moms Mabley performed her covered version of "Abraham, Martin, and John" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    One year earlier on June 22nd, 1969 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #89; and on July 13th it peaked at #35 (for 2 weeks) and spent 6 weeks on the Top 100...
    On the same 'Sullivan' show Tommy James & the Shondells sang "Ball of Fire", it reached #19 on the Top 100...
    Moms Mabley, born Loretta Mary Aiken, passed away on May 23rd, 1975 at the age of 81...
    May she R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 1st 1969, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles performed "Abraham, Martin, & John" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    Four weeks later on June 29th, 1969 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #73; and on July 13th it peaked at #33 (for 2 weeks) and spent 6 weeks on the Top 100...
    The 2nd week it was at #33 Moms Mabley's covered version of the same song was peaking at #35...
    Also on the same 'Sullivan' show the Miracles sang "Doggone Right"; it reached #32 on July 20th, the very same week that their "Abraham, Martin, & John" was in its 2nd week at #33...
    The year 1969 was a great year for the Miracles; they had a total of five records make the Top 100, the other three were "Baby, Baby Don't Cry", "Here I Go Again", and "Point It Out".
  • Alberto from Roma, ItalyThe English band "The Bible" during the '80s released a version of "Abraham, Martin and John" in which the fourth verse is about "my old friend Steven" and not about Robert Kennedy. I think it's Steven Biko, who was also assassinated because of his fight against racism. He was South African. Steven Biko and Martin Luther King are two heroes of mankind, while Abraham Lincoln and John Fitzgerald Kennedy were two beloved politicians who did some very good things and some very bad. I wish "my old friend John" was John Lennon, then the song would be almost perfect!
  • Hugh from Wick, United Kingdomesskayess, yes they did.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxJohn didn't 'free' anyone and Bobby sure as hell didn't, either.
  • Michael Scott from Punta Gorda, FlI remember too this song coming out in '68 but it was Abraham and John. After the MLK assassination it included Martin and then a few months later it included Bobby (RFK).
  • Jeff from Columbus, OhTwo things I can't get all the way through... this song and the Vietnam Memorial in D.C.
    Am I the only one who remembers this (or am I wrong?), but I remember this song being released twice. It was first released, I believe in May right after MLK was killed in April. The only verses were of Abraham, Martin and John. The song was rewritten and re-released after RFK was killed in June. The new version included the verse about Bobby.
    What a different world this would be if Bobby Kennedy had become Presidentin 1968.
  • Leroy from Nyc, NyI was born in 1968 and I grew up with this song. I remember it to this day thank you songfacts for taking me back down memory lane. I did not understand what civil rights really meant back then. But its real important to me now and forever. These three men died so that all men and women can have equal rights. May they continue to RIP and JAH the most high bless their souls for all that they did for mankind......
  • Edward from Birmingham, AlIn a class by itself. I was 16 years old when Bobby and Martin were killed. I still tear up listening to it. And yes, anybody seriously looking at it knows that the death of these three in the sixties were related. The Warren Report was a joke.
  • J.r. from Lancaster, PaWe have lost yet another good man. R.I.P. Ted Kennedy. You will be missed... From the Brookline
    Irish Mob (B.I.M.)P.S. I live in Pennsylvania now but was raised in Boston.
  • Frank from Granchester Meadows, GreenlandTo anyone who has the album with this on it, there's also another tune that's really great...i believe it's the last track on either side a or b, i can't remember now which. But the tune is called " The Dolphin " and it's a really great number.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis was Dion's first big hit since The Wanderer in the early 60s. I have heard it many times over the last 40 years and it's more of a folk song, telling about three great American leaders.

    I also remember Tom Clay's version, combined with What the World Needs Now is Love. The Blackberries sang on the record.
  • David from Inverness, United KingdomComment for Jim in Toronto
    The great Mr Dimucciu has just released a new CD of Rock N Roll "guitar heros" (details via Dion's website) it includes a DVD which you would find interesting and many would find informative .I believe he is the last rocker from the 50's doing original stuff today; his 2007 CD" Son of Skip james " has him doing wonderful blues guitar work as well as vocal magnificence .
  • Cc from Nyc, NyI give the song 5 stars, especially as a result of listening to Ray Charles' version of it on YouTube. As in his performance of "America The Beautiful," Ray takes "Abraham, Martin, & John" to the next level, and then to higher and higher levels as each verse progresses. Stunning.
  • Conley from Austin, TxMy favorite of all time. Thanks Dick Holler and Dion.
  • Matt from Boston, MaI can never get past the part where Dion sings "...someday soon...it's gonna be one day..." without tearing up. Such a moving song.

    By the way, I'm going to assume that the guy who thinks that 9/11 was an inside job and the Pentagon was hit by a cruise missile, and now there is a missing plane at the bottom of the ocean, was kidding.

    The problem, when people start believing in conspiracies, is that they start to think that everything is a conspiracy.

    I certainly buy into the JFK assassination as a conspiracy, but that is because there is ample evidence to back it up, unlike 9/11.
  • Mark from Niagara Falls, Nythe man who wrote this, Dick Holler, also wrote Double Shot (of my Baby's Love) later recorded by the Swingin' Medallions and co-wrote Snoopy vs. the Red Baron for the Royal Guardsmen.
  • Tom from Dozier, AlThis song continues to get to me after all these years. IMO, no one does it better than Dion.
  • Jimmy from Saginaw, MiThis is to Kelli of Cedar Rapids...One man's cheese is another man's meat
  • Jim from Toronto, OnDion performed this song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 60's I believe. At the time, there was a musicians strike and as a result, variety shows, such as the Smothers Brothers, were without studio orchestras or unionized back-up musicians.

    Dion came on stage with just an acoustic guitar and proceeded to accompany himself as he sang Abraham, Martin and John. His guitar work was the most surprising thing about the performance. I doubt that anyone, up until that point, even knew Dion could play an instrument, never mind with such apparent skill.

    It was an eye opener to be sure.
  • Graham from Shropshire,, EnglandMessage for Lisa, Eugene. I think the song you are thinking of is by Tom Clay released in 1971. It also uses the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song 'What The World Needs Know is love'.
  • Ian from Chicago, IlI love this song and it chokes me up every time. The only problem I have with the sung lyric is the line, "But it seems the good, they die young" sounds like, "but it seems good they died young". I couldn't understand why they would say this about these great people who were taken from us too early.
    Other than that, I dig the song. Dion rocks and kudos to Mr. Holler for writing it!
  • Darrell from EugeneI'm not the same Darrell as in the other "Darrell" comment, which can easily be found out from the fact that his opinion is the polar opposite of mine.
  • Darrell from EugeneUnlike a lot of you, I was around when JFK,Bobby Kennedy (RFK) and Martin Luther King, Jr. were murdered, and I was so despondent on each occasion that I drank a half case of Old Milwaukee to drown my depression, and I did it again on 9/11, but with Mike's Hard Lemonade instead of beer. By the way, I believe that Oswald and Sirhan were contracted by the CIA to kill JFK and RFK and that 9/11 was an inside job caused in part by explosives in the WTC basemant and a cruise missile taking the place of the jet which allegedly hit the pentagon and (in my opinion) is at the bottom of the Atlantic, perhaps off of New Jersey, Marylans or Long Island.
  • Lisa from Eugene, OrThere was a version of this song where in the background a little girl asked her father what segergation. A little later in the sang she asked what racisim was. I always like this version the best.
  • Darrell from Eugene, United StatesAbout the JFK assassination: Lee Harvey Oswald REALLY killed JFK. If you still don't believe me, you should read "Kennedy and Lincoln: Medical and Ballistic Comparisons of their Assassinations" by Dr. John K. Lattimer. And about LBJ- One president from Texas is more than enough. LBJ was almost as bad as George W. Bush, what with his unending support of the Vietnam War and all.
  • Krista from Elyria, OhDion is awesome! Mom thought the people mentioned in the song were from the Bible!
    I knew the Abe and Martian ones.
    Only the good die young...
    The bad die younger...
  • Ben from Prince George, CanadaIf you want to hear a great version of this song, look for Emmy Lou Harris' version on her album, "Live at the Ryman." She does it as medly with another song called "Hard Times" which I believe is a Steven Foster song.
  • Dave from Scottsdale, AzThe flip side was "Daddy Rollin' (In Your Arms)" about the singer's heroin days. Scary song; nothing like the A side. He made some great albums after this before he got God. Check out "Sit Down Old Friend" and "In Your Own Back Yard".
  • Dan from Oklahoma City, OkThe No. 1 best selling PROTEST song of the '60's was Abraham, Martin and John.
  • Dan from Oklahoma City, OkThe No. 1 best selling song of the '60's was Abraham, Martin and John.
  • Ross from St. Leo, MnDion is force to be reckoned with...his music jumps from the doo-wop everybody loves to soulful blues. The man is one of the most important voices of the Rock era.
  • Kelli from Cedar Rapids, IaThis song is pretty cheesy...
  • Adam from Sussex, EnglandAlso, it was covered by Leonard Nimoy...
  • Christine from Chicago, IlBesides the Beatles, Dion and Dylan were the only musicians used on the cover of the Beatles, Sargeant Peppers album.
  • Larry from Shorashim, IsraelMy favorite cover of this song is by Harry Belefonte.
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcThe song was a hit in 1968 after the King and Kennedy assasinations.
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