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Written by master songwriter Dick Holler and originally recorded by teen idol Dion in 1968, “Abraham, Martin and John” was written in direct response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that of Robert Kennedy, asking the world where some of history’s greatest men – Abraham Lincoln, Dr. King, John and Bobby Kennedy – have gone, only to come to an ending in which they can all be seen walking over a hill together. Dion’s version was a massive success, its folk driven sound colored with a variety of string instruments a big hit as the Civil Rights Movement came to a head and resonated with a nation struggling to grieve its losses as it worked tirelessly towards a better tomorrow, but it was ultimately the cover released by gospel powerhouse Mahalia Jackson that hit like a freight train.
The Queen of Gospel Music more than earned her stripes ten times over with her version of “Abraham, Martin and John”; aided only by soft musical backing from organs, bells, and a few backing vocalists, Jackson – who knew King and famously sang at JFK’s inauguration – imparts a level of heart and soul that only an artist of her caliber could, the pain of watching friends cut down before their time and before their jobs were really finished coloring every word. Sure, it’s a little cliche to say that the Queen of Gospel took us to church with her rendition of this already powerful tribute, but truth be told? That’s the only way to describe the magic Mahalia Jackson worked when she put her voice to this song. Check it out in the audio below!