Abraham, Martin and John

Lincoln, Feb. 5, 1865

Abraham, Martin and John

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he’s gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he’s gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked ’round and he’s gone.

Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Some day soon, and it’s a-gonna be one day …

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.


I was a teenager in 1968. Things were not going so well in America. The assassination of President Kennedy was still very fresh in my memory-as it was with all those who were old enough to be aware of it. Then in 1968, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were murdered. Had the world gone mad? The war in Viet Nam was raging. Detroit had a terrible riot just the year before. Our local family store owner was senselessly killed. I remember tanks rolling down the street! The “counterculture” movement was in full swing. Everyone had a “cause.” Drugs were in the schools. Draft cards were being burned. The establishment wasn’t to be trusted. One was able to pretty much watch the assassination of Bobby Kennedy on thr television. Who can ever forget seeing him laying there on the floor after he was shot-knowing he was going to die. It was all very sad.

Then in late 1968, singer Dion’s Abraham, Martin and John hit the airwaves. Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you had to experience the events as a living person at the time. The song was very special. I’m not sure someone today, who hadn’t lived during time, would understand. The song was comforting. I know it doesn’t make sense as far as what it says. That  wasn’t the point. It wasn’t supposed to be analyzed for historical accuaracy. For a generation that was feeling lost and betrayed, it was an important song. It established a long running thread from Abraham Lincoln to Bobby Kennedy of individuals who tried to do good in our country-and yes- they died in the effort. Somehow that notion felt good-made us feel that something in America was still good.

When Motown pioneer and artist Smokey Robinson first heart the song, he said he cried. He later recorded the song, himself. Marvin Gaye also covered the song. Perhaps he had the song in mind when he was writing the music for his landmark album What’s Going On. Other artists have covered the tune, including Bob Dylan and- Moms Mabley! However, it was Dion’s version that stood out for me. I had been reading Sandburg’s Lincoln at the time. To hear a popular song reference Abraham Lincoln in that day was amazing. It just a few short years, my generation-the generation that would bring Woodstock to the world-would realize our “dream” had failed. Lincoln would have to be renewed to a new generation. I would volunteer into the U.S. Army. 1968 was a memory-and Abraham, Martin and John would become an item in Trivial Pursuit. Still, when I hear the song today on Oldies Radio, I’m taken back to 1968-and I still get warm feelings. Yes, you had to be there…


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4 Responses to “Abraham, Martin and John”

  1. Chris says:

    Bill: I don’t even remember it getting much airplay even around 1989 or so, when it was old enough to get played on the oldies stations. I don’t know how big of a hit it was (though certainly it had to be in the top 40). It’s one of my favorite songs from the 1960s.

    To me, it always stuck out, because it was so different from everything else that was being written around that tumultuous time. It’s interesting, because from about this time this song was written to the mid/late 1970s Lincoln (and other American heroes like Washington) pretty much dropped out of popular culture completely, and in fact were often viewed negatively. It was 1968 that Lerone Bennett wrote that infamous article about Lincoln being a white supremacist.

    By the 1980s, though, those notions that the “dream” had failed as you mentioned (due to the end of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam) had waned, and Lincoln’s image was revived for a new generation. It’s still fun seeing Lincoln in the video for what has always been one of my favorite songs – Lincoln was awesome! It’s the kind of thing that influences my artwork and other creative endeavors.

    You’re right, every generation views Lincoln differently.

  2. B. Nash says:

    Chris: Abraham, Martin, and John doesn’t get much airplay nowadays-even on the oldies stations. Still, it’s a great song-and was a tribute to Lincoln and the others mentioned. I had forgotten about the Lincoln reference in the Starship song. Obviously, it was meant to be “hip.” Each generation views Lincoln in a different way. I don’t really care for the song but recognize that using Lincoln was cool.

  3. Chris says:

    I actually know this song, even though I wasn’t around when it was a hit, since the oldies station my parents listened to played it some. It always made me sad when I heard it.

    It’s an interesting contrast to the fun portrayal of Lincoln in the video for the 1985 #1 Starship hit “We Built This City” (in the chorus after the first verse) –


    Abraham Lincoln rocks!

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