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April 6: Concerts in North Dakota

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Today we continue strolling down memory lane, recalling past concerts in North Dakota. Perhaps you’ll remember some!

Louis Armstrong performed in 1957 at the Grand Forks Central High School Auditorium for 1,200 people. But his appearance is better remembered for his comments to the Grand Forks Herald about the treatment of Black students in Arkansas known as the Little Rock Nine. Armstrong had canceled his government-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union because “the way they are treating my people in the south, the government can go to hell.” He said President Eisenhower had “no guts,” and he denounced Arkansas’s governor with such strong language, that the reporter asked him for words he could actually print! They went with “uneducated plow boy.” Days later, Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to protect the students.

Ray Charles also performed in Grand Forks, appearing with the Raelettes in 1968. 3,600 people filled the University of North Dakota Fieldhouse to hear him perform such hits as “Georgia on My Mind,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Crying Time” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

While pausing for reflection halfway through his concert, he put down a heckler. Charles said: “You know, they say we’re descended from apes, and that man got a two-way ticket.” Charles also played UND’s Chester Fritz Auditorium in 1975 and ‘79.

Anne Murray sold out the Chester Fritz in 1974. A six-piece band accompanied her. Her repertoire included “Snowbird.” She praised the auditorium as “a treat” after doing a series of concerts in gymnasiums.

On this date in 1974, John Denver performed at the Bismarck Civic Center for 7,100 people. His nearly two-hour concert featured 22 songs including his latest hit, “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” Denver said he wrote the song “on a really cruddy day in Minnesota.” His stage set featured a wall-hanging that read “War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.” Denver also tested songs from his next album “Back Home Again,” and earlier in the day he even recorded a song for the album at a Bismarck studio.

Johnny Cash performed in 1980 at the State Fair in Minot for 8,000 people. His set included “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line.” He introduced his wife, June Carter Cash, and they sang several numbers. Cash had performed in the Magic City years earlier, and told the crowd, “It’s nice to be back in Minot.”

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


  • Grand Forks Herald. 1957, September 18. Page 1: Satchmo blasts school discord
  • Newsday. 1957, September 18. Page 2: Satchmo kills red trip, hits U.S. on bias
  • Grand Forks Herald. 1968, May 8. Page 5: Charles sent his messag
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1974, April 8. Page 9: Denver brings country to town
  • Grand Forks Herald. 1974, November 22. Page 3: Canadian vocalist delights audience
  • Grand Forks Herald. 1975, September 20. Page 11: Ray Charles performance tops entertainment week
  • Grand Forks Herald. 1979, September 16. Page 9C: Ray Charles at the Fritz: An enchanted evening …
  • Minot Daily News. 1980, July 28. Page 21: 8,000 hear Johnny Cash say hello
  • National Park Service. Little Rock Nine: nps.gov/people/the-little-rock-nine.htm
  • NPR. 2007, September 22. Remembering Louis Armstrong’s Little Rock protest. Retrieved from: npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14620516

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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