Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968. The performance was recorded and released in May under the album title, At Folsom Prison. On February 22 Johnny Cash proposed publicly at a performance in Canada, he and June Carter married in March 1968.
Martin Luther King, Jr., a major leader in the civil rights movement, was assassinated on April 4, 1968. While not a musical event in its own right, King's leadership and death had repercussions throughout the country and the civil rights movement, influencing the music of the time.
- James Brown was scheduled to perform in Boston on April 5, the night after King's death. The city leadership, including Mayor Kevin White and Council Member Tom Atkins, persuaded Brown and the local television networks to broadcast the performance live, in an effort to prevent the rioting and unrest brought the night before by the news of King's death. The broadcast kept people at home, and Boston was one of the few cities that remained quiet that night.
- The Poor People's Campaign organized a protest and extended occupation of the National Mall, beginning with the arrival of the first protesters on May 12, 1968. Before his death, King helped organize the protest; in his absence Reverend Ralph Abernathy lead the campaign. For more information on the Smithsonian's documentation of the campaign, visit the Smithsonian Archives website.
On April 29, 1968, the rock musical Hair opened on Broadway. Hair brought sex, drugs, nudity, and rock music to a Broadway stage, and included the song "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," which became popular in its own right, topping charts in 1969.
In May, the rock band The Beatles began recording their album titled The Beatles, which was more commonly known as The White Album for it's nearly blank cover. It was released on November 22, 1968 and
In November, "Love Child" by Diana Ross and the Supremes replaced "Hey Jude" by The Beatles in the number one spot at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
Elvis Presley filmed a television special that aired on December 3, 1968, often referred to as the "'68 Comeback Special." Elvis was drafted into the army in 1957 and served until 1960. After his service, Elvis transitioned to a film career. The '68 Comeback Special was Presley's reemergence as a musical performer. The footage is availble for viewing online.
Political unrest in 1968 was not limited to the United States. A December 9, 1968, premier of Hans Werner Henze’s oratorio "The Raft of the Medusa (Das Floß der Medusa)," in Hamburg, Germany, which was dedicated to the Argentinian Marxist leader, Che Guevara, was interrupted by protests. The broadcast of the live performance was canceled and a recording of the final rehearsal was transmitted instead.
You can explore more Smithsonian collections related to the year 1968 by visiting "1968: A Year in the Collections."