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Daily Record 1/5/11: John Fitzgerald Kennedy 1917-1963: A Memorial Album (1963 or ’64)

In 1960s, John F. Kennedy, presidential record albums, spoken word, United States history on January 6, 2011 at 10:02 am

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 changed the world. Not only that, it led to the production of a number of records.

In the wake of Kennedy’s death, a number of tribute albums were released. The Kennedy album in my collection is titled John Fitzgerald Kennedy 1917-1963: A Memorial Album, with the note, “His Most Famous Speeches and Comments by  Barry Goldwater, Adlai Stevenson, Vice Pres. L. B. Johnson, Sir Alec Home, Pope John XXIII.”  The album is open, but it is still in its original shrink wrap. The front cover of the album is a somber-looking, black-bordered portrait of Kennedy, while the back is covered with black and white photos of Kennedy at various points in his life, mostly during his presidency.

This album belonged to my parents and I remember listening to it at least once as a kid. It seems like I probably listened to it more than once, since I remember a specific joke that Kennedy told, in which he confused the terms “payload” and “payroll,” when talking about the space program that was included as an example of Kennedy’s wit. I remember this even though it’s probably been 35 years since I listened to it (although I randomly picked this album yesterday, I have not listened to it yet; the fact that each side is one long track makes it a rather daunting spoken-word listen).

I asked Mom about the Kennedy album last night. She does not remember the specifics of when or where she bought it but I’m sure that it, along with other Kennedy tribute records, was available at both music stores and department stores and probably even placed like supermarkets. It seems to me like buying a record like this, whether you actually listened to it or not, was part of the collective grieving process that U.S. citizens (and, I guess, people throughout the world)  endured in late 1963 and into 1964. In fact, Donna thinks that her mom had a copy of the same album.

Years later, in the mid-1970’s, my parents’ JFK tribute album had an effect on me. As a very young record collector who was already avidly interested in presidential history, how could I not be fascinated by it?  In addition to the relatively recent history described on it, the JFK album was also an early indication to me that records could be used to contain other information besides music; it was my first encounter with a “spoken-word” album.

Since then, “president records” have become a small but odd sub-section of my record collection: I’ve got at least two compilations  of inaugural speeches; an album that contains presidential voices from Cleveland through Truman; the soundtrack to a documentary on the American Revolution, narrated by Ronald Reagan; and the sleeve (but no record) for an album of Dwight Eisenhower’s “favorite music” (in addition to the ’90s CD updated reissue of Oscar Brand’s Presidential Campaign Songs album).  I haven’t seen much from this genre lately, but I’d still pick up any cheap old presidential-themed record I’d find in one of my thrifting excursions.

Finally, knowing that this JFK album was purchased by my parents, who were in their early 20s at the time of Kennedy’s death, is important to me. Having it is like watching the home movies my Dad shot when he and my mom joined the mourners at Kennedy’s funeral. Dad’s film, and this particular copy of A Memorial Album, are the evidence of a moment when my family history–along with everybody’s family history–and my country’s history intertwined.

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