On this, the fourth day of Memorial Day Week, we pay tribute to Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Peter, Paul and Mary—as well as to every person killed in war and to their families.
On April 24, 1971, more than 500,000 people marched onto the Capitol Mall to unite in opposition to the Viet Nam war. There had been several Peace Marches in the years prior to 1971; there would be dozens more in the next four decades, as the U.S. continued to enter into wars. But this one would be the most remembered.
It was at this rally that combat-experienced veterans publicly threw away their medals. Among those who made a public statement against the war was John Kerry, who helped host the event and who threw away his medals. (Many right-winger pundits, almost none of whom served in battle, would later claim that Kerry never really earned his three Purple Hearts, and Silver Star and Bronze Star for combat heroism. He later became spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War.)
At this protest as they had been at other protests, was Peter, Paul, and Mary, who had become identified with social justice, civil rights, and the anti-war movement. PPM, influenced by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers, had formed in 1961, had several hit records and were a part of almost every major protest for almost a decade. But in 1970, they went into solo careers. Nine months later, temporarily reunited, they brought the Washington crowd to tears with their renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” (The Trio—Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers—would permanently reunite in 1981 and continue until 2009 when Travers died from complications from leukemia.)
Bob Dylan (1942 - ) was born Robert Zimmerman in Minneapolis. His grandparents were immigrant Russian Jews escaping the pogroms at the turn of the 20th century. Music and the arts, especially from Woody Guthrie and the blues singers, were a part of his childhood. After high school, he moved into a more permanent place in music, as a songwriter/performer first in Minnesota and then in New York City.
Author of numerous hit songs, many calling for social justice, Dylan became identified with the alienation of youth during the Civil Rights and anti-war era of the 1960s.
“Blowin’ in the Wind” (written in 1962, when he was 20) became identified as an anthem for social change. It was first recorded by the Chad Mitchell Trio, but the record was held back by the label; another label had no hesitation in releasing the Peter, Paul, & Mary version, which became a hit, selling about 300,000 copies in the first week. More than a million copies would soon follow.
The song would be covered by almost every major folksinger of the 1960s, including Joan Baez and Judy Collins. Others who gave it voice included singers from a wide range of styles, including Bruce Springsteen, Bobby Darin, Stevie Wonder, and Dolly Parton.
Dylan would be honored by a Pulitzer Prize special citation, 11 Grammys, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
JOHN LENNON (1940-1980) —
“Give Peace a Chance,” like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” became an anthem for a world torn by wars. The song was originally written and recorded in a hotel bedroom—Lennon and Yoko Ono were in a “Bed-in” in 1969 to call media attention to anti-war protest. Among those in the chorus were Allen Ginsburg, Petula Clark, Tommy Smothers, and Tim Leary.
Lennon and Paul McCartney would be universally known as one of the best songwriting teams in music history; the Beatles, in its 10-year history (1960-1970), would be one of the most influential bands of the last half of the 20th century.
On this, the fourth day of Memorial Day Week, please take some time to click on the below link and watch a part of the concert for peace, featuring Peter, Paul, & Mary (with special guest John Denver), and the words and music of Bob Dylan and John Lennon.