Audiobiography: A sonic memoir of the 1960s


Friday, 22 November 1963, afternoon. Home from school. A sick day spent in bed reading and dozing, suddenly turned upside down when my mother called up the stairs, frantically, "Come down here. Someone shot the President!"

In the downstairs den, the television was on, a rare occurrence in my family where television viewing was limited to specific evening programs. But there it was, tuned to CBS where news anchor Walter Cronkite, said . . .


As you can hear, Cronkite's voice started strong, an objective reporter reciting the facts. Kennedy was shot while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas. My mother and I could hear the emotion in Cronkite’s voice, however, as he continued  reporting Kennedy's death. We sat together on the sofa, watching and listening. Looking back, despite the fact that we said nothing to each other, this was a significant moment of bonding between my mother and me. We, like Cronkite, tried to remain objective, resisting the emotion trying to break through. As Cronkite always said at the end of his broadcasts, "That's the way it was." In the early 1960s, sonic rhetorics of emotion were often suppressed. This changed as the decade unfolded. The sonic rhetoric, and reactions to it, became much more emotional.

1960: Civil rights, Cold War politics

I grew up near Greensboro, North Carolina, one of the launching points for the Civil Rights Movement. On 1 February 1960, four black college students from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College —David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, and Joseph McNeil, later known as The Greensboro Four— sat down at a white's only lunch counter in the F. W. Woolworth Company, downtown Greensboro, and refused to leave until they were served. This was an intentional act, said McCain, undertaken for specific purposes . . .


It was easy to hear McCain's rhetoric as reasonable, firm, honest, and absolutely committed to the consequences of his actions. Being persuaded to participate in his cause was also easy. In my part of the southern United States, interactions between black and white peoples were compartmentalized and separate, certainly not equal. No explanation made sense, especially not, "That's the way it's always been." Segregation was the law, and nothing but acceptance was expected. More about segregating the Woolworth lunch counter . . .

Segregation in the early 1960s seemed a lot like the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. In both cases, one group of people was trying to best another. For example, on 1 May 1960, a CIA U-2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, was shot down near Svedlovsk, Soviet Union; both countries went to work blaming the other. In this sample from a movie theater newsreel, note the rhetorical tone of the announcer’s voice as he seeks to undercut spying by the United States with the idea that the Soviet Union was in fact the aggressor for launching the "most belligerent anti-American propaganda barrage in recent years" ...


Neither the rhetorical spin nor the sound of its delivery changed the basic fact that we were spying, right? Would we not expect the possibility of getting caught and being paraded before the world? Would we not try to shoot down a Russian spy plane flying over our country and score the same points? It was like a game, with high stakes, but still a game. Naive as we were, my friends and I knew America had been caught and was getting spanked. Sonic rhetorics like this newsreel made that clear. By the way, Powers parachuted safely to the ground where he was captured and held for one year, nine months and nine days by the Soviet authorities before being traded for Soviet spy Colonel Rudolph Ivanovich Abel.

1961: Change of presidents, space race, Bay of Pigs, singing computer


That was President Dwight D. Eisenhower warning against what he saw as the influence of "the military-industrial complex," a too cozy deal between those who would make war and those who would use it for economic or political gain. Eisenhower included this warning in his Farewell Address, 17 January 1961, three days before leaving office. His warning was ignored. As it turned out, he was absolutely right to be concerned. We should have been concerned also, but were not. Silly rabbits. More about Eisenhower's unheeded warning . . .

Eisenhower was not noted as a dynamic rhetor. And, in early 1961, his warning was easily overlooked by the country's enthrallment with a new president. On 20 January 1961, in his Inaugural Address, newly-elected President John F. Kennedy said nothing about dangers posed by big business and the military. Instead, he challenged us with his ringing rhetoric to think of our country, do for our country, rather than expect entitlement. . .


Kennedy was the perfect counterpoint to Eisenhower. He was young, dynamic, and his rhetoric spoke to a future that sounded inviting. The rhetorical idea that I could be part of the country moving forward, that my effort and contribution mattered, was a powerful, and persuasive idea.

Part of looking to the future was the idea of exploring space and on 12 April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and the first to orbit Earth. "The Earth is blue," he reported to ground control. "How wonderful. It is amazing." Yes, indeed, how amazing it was that human beings were, and would continue, traveling in space. There was no need for an overlay of rhetorical devices or delivery. It made no difference that Gagarin was Russian, and was in space before any American, a major Cold War victory for the Soviets. He represented all of humanity with his amazed, yet dignified observation, a stance I thought nicely duplicated by Radio Moscow in its announcement to all the world about his accomplishment . . .


Although both countries outwardly celebrated Gagarin, this besting of the United States in the race to space added to Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union. Five days later, 17 April 1961, relations boiled with the disastrous CIA-trained Cuban exiles' invasion of Southern Cuba, at the Bay of Pigs. The United States was supposed to provide covert support, but withdrew and the invaders were defeated in three days, much to the embarrassment of newly inaugurated President Kennedy. Utilizing his rhetorical skills, Kennedy responded to Radio Moscow broadcasts accusing the United States of "armed aggression" with logos meant to appeal to the sentiments of his listeners . . .


Kennedy's calm, matter-of-fact tone and delivery was appropriate to the rhetorical situation (the kairos). He meant to reassure Americans that there was no danger of conflict with the Russians. His sonic rhetoric was designed to persuade. It was not our fault (an appeal to logos) that freedom fighters sought to overthrow Fidel Castro, dictator (an appeal to pathos) of Cuba. We could not be expected to hide our sympathies (an appeal to ethos), he said, but we did not actively participate, he implied. But, his language and logic were not completely successful. If we did not participate, asked some Americans, why were we involved? What were our country's intentions? What were we hiding? What lay ahead?

America followed Russia into space on 5 May 1961, when Alan B. Shepard, Jr. took a fifteen minute flight one hundred sixteen miles above the Earth and back. The rhetorical message behind his enthusiastic statement, “All systems are go!”, spoke to his own confidence, and that of the nation, that the United States would participate fully in the exploration of space . . .


With all systems go, the question was "where?". Twenty days after Shepard's space flight, 25 May 1961, President John F. Kennedy, during a speech delivered before the United States Congress, gave the answer . . .


His rhetorical style was understated, yet definitive. We trailed the Soviets in space exploration. We had no real space program. But, getting to the moon first would prove the technical and political superiority of the capitalist system. Kennedy made it sound easy. The nation got behind the challenge and we all watched or listened, spellbound, as the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions led up to the fulfillment of Kennedy's challenge in 1968.

Seemingly far removed from politics, the IBM 704 became the first computer to sing when, in 1961, it delivered a rendition of "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)" composed in 1892 by Harry Dacre. The synthesized vocals were programmed by John L. Kelly and Carol Lockbaum. The accompaniment was programmed by Max Mathews. The result was amazing . . .


What could we say about this? Even though it did not make much sense for machines to sing, it was exciting and interesting that they could be made to do so. This new sonic rhetoric was, to many, a sign of a bright and interesting future. More about singing computers . . .

1962: Cuban missile crisis, threat of nuclear war

On 20 February 1962, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. He completed three orbits around Earth aboard his space ship, Friendship 7, during a flight lasting four hours, fifty-five minutes, and twenty-three seconds.

Giant missiles launched American astronauts into space. The sonic rhetorics of these launches spoke to a righteous goal, and I listened and watched as each mission brought us one step closer to landing on the moon ahead of the Russians. On the other hand, there were the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) poised around the world, each aiming a nuclear warhead toward the United States. Destruction was assured if they were launched. I was scared of nuclear attack, especially when television and radio news reports announced boatloads of nuclear missiles bound for Cuba . . .


In this 22 October 1962 radio and television address to the nation, and the world, regarding what we called the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy meant to convey a specific rhetorical message: “The United States will not tolerate nuclear warheads in Cuba, just ninety miles off the Florida coast.” Kennedy’s rhetorical stance, cool, yet ladened with gravitas, seemed to leave no room for interpretation, or pushback. Everyone waited to see whether the Russian freighters carrying the missiles would turn around when confronted by a United States Navy blockade. They did, but the fear of nuclear war lingered and perhaps was exacerbated by the Duck and Cover film distributed by the United States Civil Defense Administration . . .


First released in 1951, but shown into the 1980s, Duck and Cover was designed to teach a method of personal protection from a nuclear explosion. Wherever you were, whenever you saw the flash of an atomic bomb explosion, you were to drop to the ground, and cover your head. This scene where the family picnic is interrupted by an atomic blast was typical of the film's rhetorical message: any cover will protect you from a bad burn. Not mentioned was that radiation would not be stopped by a newspaper or thin cloth. And burned or not, radiation sickness would prompt an agonizing death. So, despite the rhetoric, I knew "duck and cover" would not save my life. This made the message, and its sender, the government, seem insincere, and worse, cynical. Still, that was all we had; the tune was catchy, and the star of the movie, Bert, was enviable for his carry-around shelter.

1963: Segregation, inspiration, assassination

The growing Civil Rights Movement was beginning to change a lot of thinking about segregation, mine included. But not everyone, and not everywhere. On 14 January 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace promised perpetual segregation during his inauguration speech . . .


Rhetoric overhead daily helped evolve my thinking about racism: a neighbor who asked whether my family would help protect the neighborhood when blacks rioted; someone saying, "Everyone knows that blacks have no culture, no history"; and countless references that blacks were not content to "know their place." Wallace's remarks about segregation hit a raw nerve, however. This was naked hatred. Undisguised and, if you listen for the rebel yell at the conclusion of Wallace's remark, openly celebrated. There was no rhetorical counterpoint, no response to such a stance. It was, in my mind, a dark day for segregation, civil rights, humanity.

A different type of segregation was the division of the people of Berlin, Germany, following World War II when the city was divided into east and west sectors. West Berlin was controlled by the United States. East Berlin by the Soviet Union. Beginning 13 August 1961, the German Democratic Republic, under Soviet control, began building a wall around much of East Berlin. Two years later, The Berlin Wall not only divided the city of Berlin but provided a barrier for people seeking to escape communist-controlled East Berlin and eastern bloc European countries during The Cold War. On 26 June 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited the wall in West Berlin and delivered an inspiring speech . . .


When Kennedy said, in German, "I am also a Berliner," the entire world took note of his rhetorical solidarity with Berliners no matter on which side of the wall they lived. The idea of standing shoulder to shoulder with others who desired the right and dignity to live freely was compelling. But what to do, and how?

Inspiration came from the seventeen-minute "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking to over 200,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, 27 August 1963. King invoked the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the United States Constitution, and other sources, as well as rhetorical devices, to educate, inform, and inspire those gathered on site and listening around the world. The end of King’s speech, sampled here, left an indelible vision of freedom and equality arising from slavery and hatred . . .


I was totally inspired listening to King's speech and its amazing combination of ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos. I cannot describe the source of that inspiration other than to say I felt his rhetoric to be elemental. Perhaps it was the rhetorical power of a gospel minister to light the fires of belief. Perhaps it was the cadence of his call and response delivery. Perhaps it is because the most powerful part of the speech was delivered largely extemporaneously, in response to a shout from renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (far right in photo, back turned to camera, wearing hat) to "Tell 'em about the dream Martin!". An accomplished minister riffing on his sermon, King took the cue, explored his ideas, and brought it all home in the conclusion to his speech. Today, writing this memoir, I still shake with inspiration when hearing King's sonic rhetoric. It was one of my personal sonic highlights for the decade of the 1960s. My lowest sonic point . . .

1964: The Beatles, boxing, assassination, nuclear bombs

After a respectable period of mourning for our lost president, the country began turning attention elsewhere. One point of interest was Great Britain, where a new kind of music was emerging. We heard it every day on our radios. At the forefront of this "British Invasion" were The Beatles, four young men with controversial haircuts and undeniably popular songs. Radio and television broadcasts followed The Beatles from their New York airport arrival to their 9 February 1964 appearance on the very popular Ed Sullivan Show, a television variety show . . .


Ed Sullivan, host of the television variety show that bore his name, needed not say more than their name when he introduced The Beatles, or use any rhetorical strategy. He could not, really, because the real sonic rhetoric associated with their appearance was the screaming fans. Across the nation, seventy million people like myself were tuned in, sitting on the edge of our seats, anxious to see, and hear, at last, the greatest popular culture phenomenon we had ever known. See and hear The Beatles' first Ed Sullivan performance . . .

I was not the only young person who, during the 1960s, aspired to personal greatness. For example, on 25 February 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. outboxed Sonny Listen to become, at age 22, the youngest boxer ever to take the title from the reigning world heavyweight champion. This sample captures some of Clay's rhetorical excitement . . .


Clay was outspoken, brash, "uppity" as some commentators still harboring racist attitudes declared. But not sports journalist Howard Cosell. Known for his own blustery, cocksure personality and rhetorical style, Cosell championed Clay as the greatest boxer ever to live. Later in the year, when Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, Cosell supported his decision, as well as his refusal to undertake military service. The rhetorical significance was not lost on myself and other young men facing the draft for a growing war in Vietnam. Although not always advised, it was acceptable to voice your own beliefs. People were starting to listen.

Unfortunately, there was no champion for African American Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcom X, but there were many followers for his message of black supremacy, separation of the black and white races, and violence as a legitimate means to these ends. Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, delivered his "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech at the Cory Methodist Church, Cleveland, Ohio, 3 April 1964. In his speech, Malcolm X advised African Americans to exercise their right to vote, while cautioning that if the United States government continued to deny African Americans full equality it might be necessary to take up arms . . .


Despite the fact that he used a forceful yet measured tone, and his voice projected authority and agency, Malcolm X represented the other end of the rhetorical spectrum from Dr. Martin Luther King. Malcolm X's response to King's "I Have A Dream" was “I Have A Gun." His ethos represented a more radical, and potentially violent, answer to civil rights issues confronting the nation in the 1960s. More about Malcolm X . . .

In addition to racial uprising, many Americans feared nuclear war in 1964. The presidential election that year pitted Lyndon B. Johnson, vice president under John F. Kennedy and sworn to the presidency following his assassination, against Barry Goldwater, senator from Arizona. The Vietnam War was escalating and Johnson and Goldwater debated how to bring about its end. On 7 September 1964, Johnson's campaign committee released a television advertisement featuring a young girl (Birgitte Olsen, age 4)counting the petals she pulled from a daisy flower while the camera zoomed into a close up of one of her eyes. Johnson's voice replaced that of the young girl, counting down to a nuclear explosion . . .


The pathos in Johnson’s rhetorical message was clear: if elected president, Barry Goldwater would use the nuclear bomb in Vietnam. Johnson argued cooperation, or "we must die." The strategy worked and he was elected president. Still, many lived with the fear that Johnson might, after all, resort to nuclear weapons. No matter his rebuttal, there was no denying that radioactivity lasted a long, long time, longer than any of us could expect to live. Fear.

1968: "What's that sound?", abdication, assassination

By the end of the 1960s, the demand for and resistance to change were, to many, overwhelming. Radio and television broadcasts carried daily news about protests for or against civil rights, women's rights, the continuing war in Vietnam, partnerships between defense contractors, the government, and university research laboratories, nuclear proliferation, music, hair, fashion, drugs, to name just a few. Confrontation was everywhere, and demanded a price. On 31 March 1968, President Johnson, faced with growing national dissent over the war in Vietnam, announced that he would not seek or accept reelection. The song "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield, recorded in December 1966, captured many of these sentiments and remained a political anthem throughout the remainder of the 1960s . . .


In just a few lines, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, and Jim Messina delivered an inescapable rhetorical message: stop all the confrontation, find a solution, and work together for its resolution. My friends and I sang along with the song, hoping our voices would help the realization of the message. But we were drowned out by the sound of gunfire, as the assassinations continued . . .

1969: Man on the moon, peace and love

On 20 July 1969, millions watched a live television broadcast of astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping off the lunar landing module, the first human being to set foot on the surface of the moon . . .


Armstrong's statement fulfilled Kennedy's challenge and his rhetoric remains one of the most important of the twentieth century. Controversial as well. Did he really mean to say "A man" instead of "that's one small step for man"? Should he have said something else? Had he determined this statement well in advance, or as he said, had he believed rhetorical inspiration would come at the moment he stepped onto the moon's surface? To me, at the time, it did not matter. His rhetoric was intentional, and the sound of his voice, coming direct from the moon, was very persuasive. I walked outside to look at the full moon knowing two humans were on its surface.

Depending on interpretation, it was either peace and love or death at the end of the decade . . .

The most popular conclusion for the 1960s was the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, Woodstock, New York, 15-18 August 1969, considered by many to be the pivotal moment in popular music history. The conditions on site were less than ideal (three days of rain, oceans of mud, little food, physical exhaustion), but spirits were high when Wavy Gravy (Hugh Nanton Romney) woke the crowd of 400,000 with a message meant to capture that spirit of peace and love . . .


No, not heaven man, but the 1960s, a decade of turmoil, change, and too many heart-breaking deaths. Still, Gravy's sonic rhetoric, along with all the others at Woodstock that week is a good way to conclude a decade of my life.


I have attempted, in this essay, to share significant sonic rhetorics of the 1960s, both through personal memoir and recorded broadcasts. This result, I hope, is a rich audiobiography regarding moments that shaped my life. This version of Audiobiography: A Sonic Memoir of the 1960s provides an uninterrupted (9:05) experience of all the sonic rhetoric samples collected for this essay. A timeline is provided, which you can ignore while just listening. I recommend this approach actually. Perhaps understanding is more demanding as there are no visual clues or textual information about the sound sources, but the effort of listening can provide a different, even richer, and deeper appreciation for the sonic rhetorics involved. In that sense, this version is like a radio broadcast, a rhetorical medium in keeping with the audiobiographical nature of this project. Listen to Audiobiography: A Sonic Memoir of the 1960s . . .



Abraham Zapruder home movie of John F. Kennedy's assassination, still image of frame 337
Retrieved from: Internet Archive, "Presidential Lies" (; "Zapruder Film—Fact or Fiction," Internet Archive, "Zapruder Film—Fact or Fiction" (; and "The Flying Skull Fragment," (

Walter Cronkite's 22 November 1963, 2:38 PM (EST) Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) television news announcement of John F. Kennedy's death, sound sample
Retrieved from: YouTube, "Walter Cronkite announces death of JFK" (


Interview with Franklin McCain, sound sample
Source: unavailable

Francis Gary Powers on trial in Moscow for spying, photograph
Source: Tass via Associated Press., Photography Blog, "Today in photo history – 1960: U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers pleads guilty at Moscow spying trial" (


President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address, sound sample
Source: Internet Archive, "Dwight D. Eisenhower Farewell Address - 1961 (January 17, 1961) (

President John F. Kennedy, 1961 Inaugural Address, sound sample
Source: Internet Archive (

Yuri Gagarin newspaper headline and story, photograph
Source: UN Amateur Radio News - Yuri Gagarin (

President John F. Kennedy, speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 20 April 1961 regarding Bay of Pigs incident, sound sample
Source: (

Alan Shepard, Freedom 7 launch, sound sample
Source: YouTube, "Onboard Freedom 7 with Alan Shepard" ( Note: This video shows almost the entire flight.
YouTube, "Freedom 7 Full Flight" (

John F. Kennedy, Sending a man to the moon speech, United States Congress, Washington, DC, 25 May 1962, sound sample
Source: Internet Archive, "John F. Kennedy Speech, May 25, 1961" (

IBM 704 computer singing “Daisy Bell,” sound sample
Source: YouTube, "First computer to sing - Daisy Bell" (

HAL deactivation, sample
Source: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1968.
YouTube, "Deactivation of HAL 9000 (


John Glenn, photograph
Source: Time Magazine (cover credit: Boris Artzybasheff) (,16641,19620302,00.html)

John F. Kennedy, Cuban missile crisis speech, sound sample
Source: Internet Archive, "Kennedy Address, Cuba" (

“Duck and Cover,” sound sample Source: Internet Archive, "Duck and Cover (1951)" (


George Wallace, Inaugural Address, sound sample
Source: YouTube via Alabama Department of Archives and History, "George Wallace's 1963 Inaugural Speech January 14, 1963" (

John F. Kennedy, "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, 26 June 1963, sound sample
Source: Internet Archive, "John F. Kennedy Speech, June 26, 1963," (

Martin Luther King, Jr., photograph
Source: Magnum Photos via, "James Dean, D-Day And More: Iconic Photos Find A New Home" (

Martin Luther King, Jr. "I Have A Dream Speech," sound sample Source: Internet Archive, "I still have a dream," (

Lee Harvey Oswald shot, sound sample
Source: YouTube, "Lee Harvey Oswald has been shot (Raw NBC-TV audio footage)" (


The Beatles, photograph
Source: (

The Beatles, sound sample
Source: You Tube ("The Beatles 1st Ed Sullivan Performance (remastered)") (

The Beatles' first Ed Sullivan appearance video
Source: YouTube ("The Beatles 1st Ed Sullivan Performance (remastered)") (

Cassius Clay, "I must have shook up the world," sound sample
Source: YouTube, "Muhammad Ali vs Liston 1 - end of fight (High Quality)") (

Malcolm X, "Ballot or the Bullet," sound sample
Source: Internet Archive, "Education Radio: Malcolm X's 'The Ballot or The Bullet'" (

Betty Shabboz, "Malcolm X killed," sound sample
Source: T3 Media, "Betty Shabazz talks about the circumstances of her husband, Malcolm X" (

Lyndon Johnson, "Daisy," presidential campaign advertisement, video
Source: "Daisy: The Complete History of an Infamous and Iconic Ad" ( and YouTube, "Lyndon Johnson - Daisy" (


"For What It's Worth," Buffalo Springfield. Written by Stephen Stills. Recorded 5 December 1968, sound sample.

Robert Kennedy announcing death of Martin Luther King, Jr., sound sample
Source: "Robert Kennedy: Delivering News of King’s Death" (

Andrew West reporting 5 June 1968 on Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, sound sample
Source: YouTube, "Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated (Andrew West's radio coverage)" (


Neil Armstrong's first words as he stepped onto the Moon’s surface, sound sample
Source: Internet Archive, "Frase_Neil_Armstrong" (

Woodstock, Wavy Gravy, sound sample
Source: YouTube, "The 60's: Peace, Love & Music" (

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