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peter paul and mary were but three years 'old' when john fitzgerald kennedy was killed in dallas texas in 1963. coincidentally the trio was booked to do a performance in dallas the night of the president's arrival and there was even some talk about his attendance of the concert since we had performed for him in washington a few months earlier to celebrate the second anniversary of his presidency.

following that d.c. event, at an informal and somewhat impromptu party held at the then vice-president lyndon johnson's house, the president and ms kennedy requested what turned out to be essentially a 'repeat performance' from all the artists in attendance; joan sutherland, carol burnett, yves montand and gene kelly and ourselves just to mention a few. one of my fondest memories to this date is the image of the president and gene kelly tap dancing to 'when irish eyes are smiling' on a floor made bare by the rolling up of a persian carpet in the johnson living room. after the performances (which included, among other songs like 500 miles, a sing-a-long of puff the magic dragon), the president graciously came to each of the performers to personally thank us. 

peter and i were standing together as he approached.

"What was the name of that song you sang..." kennedy inquired, "where everyone applauded? They seemed to know the lyrics as well..."

"Oh..." replied peter, "that was 'If I Had a Hammer'. They knew the song because it was released as a single and...uh..." 

peter paused. i could see his momentary clocking of the situation. i was sure he was thinking 'gads here i am talking to the president of the united states about something as insignificant as a specific recording may be totally unknown to him.' 

"Uh, a single is a recording of just one tune...put on a vinyl...", peter began instructively, extending his slightly cupped hands about seven inches apart from one another.

"Oh, i know, i know..." interrupted the president smiling gently, "i just don't get much of a chance anymore to listen to the radio while driving to work..." 

and so by personal encounter and, of course, his more public appearances, peter mary and i came to share a particular perception of the president as the spokesperson for a new vision; a new hope for an involved america.

after hearing the news on the car radio, mary and i continued our drive from houston texas to dallas in mute shock. my initial hope (or a classic case of denial) was that 1) the information was not true, and/or 2) the information must be exaggerated and finally that 3) even if such a thing were possible, of course the president would recover...

would that any of those options have been true. the fact of the matter was that the president was officially pronounced dead by the time we arrived at our dallas hotel. at 5pm we joined peter who had arrived earlier and  within the hour had cancelled our concert, mourned briefly and booked the next flight out of town.

over the next ten to fifteen years i (and i think most of america as well) attempted to understand WHY a charismatic president - a symbol of our revitalized nation - would have been assassinated. who could have conceived and carried out such a thing? was it that peter, mary and i had so completely misunderstood the sense of the country? the concerns of our audiences? was there not an enlightenment, a 'movement' if you will, toward a broader more inclusive understanding of what was meant by 'human rights'?! while it would have been naive to assume that the mere passage of a civil rights law could instantly change longstanding antagonistic relationships, that at least the legislation seemed to be an indication of majority public sentiment. did the assassination mean that the values that we held were a minority view? that, in fact, america held no 'real' shared vision of our future? 

as if in answer to these questions, the subsequent shootings of martin luther king, junior and robert kennedy, seemed to re-enforce the awareness of an evil intolerance that still roamed the country. 


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