MLK Shot This Morning, er. . . Evening

U2’s powerful song “Pride (In the Name of Love)” commemorates this date in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on a balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was in town to support striking sanitation workers, and the day before he had given his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.

U2’s song, which was from The Unforgettable Fire (1984) album, recounts the assassination:

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

The shooting occurred at around 6:01 p.m. on this date, so why does “Pride (In the Name of Love)” refer to “early morning”? I have seen various explanations.

Some wondered whether at the time of the shooting, the band was in Dublin.  In that city, the time is six hours later than Tennessee time, making it just after midnight and “early morning” in Ireland. But then the date for them would have been April 5, and the song still has the correct Tennessee date of April 4.

The time change could have been poetic license, but most likely it was an error.  Perhaps the error occurred due to Bono’s memory of when he heard the news.

Sources note that Bono eventually recognized the mistake years later and began singing “early evening” instead of “early morning.” For example, in U2’s performance at the 2009 concert to celebrate the inauguration of Pres. Obama, Bono sang the “early evening” lyrics.

This energetic Chicago performance also uses the historically accurate time of day:

John Legend recorded a moving version of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” for King (2008), a series on the History Channel. His version, which also appears on the CD Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement, is less bombastic than the U2 version, but it is still powerful.

Legend replaces the “early morning” line with the words “late afternoon.”  Thus, he gives us a third time option in the lyrics to “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

Unfortunately, I listened repeatedly to the U2 albums The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and Rattle and Hum (1988).  So,I always expect to hear “early morning” as in the original music video.

Either way, it is still a great song about a great man. And, the time of day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed is much less important than what he accomplished in his life in the name of love.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and “We Shall Overcome”
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day News: From D.C. to Burma
  • Springsteen and Bono Sing “Because the Night” in Dublin
  • Martin Luther King Jr. on “The Merv Griffin Show”
  • Martin Luther King Jr.: “The Other America”
  • Springsteen and Martin Front U2 for World Aids Day
  • (Some Related Chimesfreedom Posts)

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