Christ The King Church in Manville Rock N Roll Concerts of the 1960s
By Bruce Doorly
This author strives to write about topics in local history that have seldom or never been told before.

This month’s topic certainly fits that criteria. I have been writing about local history for eleven years and have been a mobile disc jockey for thirty-five years. Yet I only recently discovered the fact that from 1963-1966 Christ the King Church in Manville held two dozen Rock N Roll concerts featuring popular artists.
Today, it is unheard of for an artist with a hit song or two to play in a church auditorium or a high school gym.

But when Rock N Roll was young that was the case. The artists did not charge a lot, because they had small portable equipment and their road crew and security consisted of only a handful of people.
Father John A. Dzema
Photo courtesy of Christ the Redeemer Parish, Manville.
At Christ the King Church in the mid-1960s there was a priest named Father John A. Dzema who oversaw the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Father John was friends with a Pennsylvania disc jockey and Rock n Roll promoter Gene Kaye.

Together they booked two dozen popular Rock N Roll acts over a three-year period.

Most of these concerts were in the auditorium of the church, but two were at Manville High School and two were at the VFW Hall in Manville.

Gene Kaye, a passionate fan and promoter of Rock N Roll, was always on hand and functioned as the master of ceremonies.
Gene Kaye with Annette Funicello
The cost to attend the concerts was initially just $1.25 if tickets were purchased in advance. Later concerts were as high as $3, but no more than that.

The concerts were often billed as dances as there was no seating. But the teenagers often had little room to dance as the auditorium almost always was packed.

There was a strict dress code. Boys were required to wear jackets and ties. The girls had to wear dresses. During summer months the dress code for boys was relaxed a bit.
Four Seasons with Father Dzema and Gene Kaye
Surviving documentation of these concerts, even with the local newspaper archives available - The Courier News (online), Manville News (paper copies at Manville Library), and Somerset Messenger Gazette (microfilm at Bridgewater Library) is scant.

Only one aborted concert (Herman’s Hermits) was written about in the newspaper. Even newspaper advertising for the concerts was minimal as these popular concerts needed little advertising.
The former teenagers, now in their mid-seventies, have fond memories of the concerts.

When a post about the concerts was made on the Manville History Facebook Group, we received many recollections.

Examples of the comments are “It was a special time to grow up”, “wonderful great memories”, and “I don’t know how they got all these great people to perform.”
The Ronettes
The first concert was held in May of 1963. It featured teen idol Jimmy Clanton whose big hit was “Venus in Blue Jeans.” Later that year Leslie Gore would perform in Manville singing her hit at the time “It’s My Party.”

In 1964, there would be at least ten concerts. The best known being The Four Seasons, Bobby Rydell, and the Isley Brothers.

In 1965, there would be seven concerts with the best known the Ronettes and Herman’s Hermits. In 1966, there would be three concerts.
Leslie Gore
The Herman’s Hermits Concert

By far the most remembered concert of the Christ the King Manville concerts was held on April 19th 1965.

Herman’s Hermits, a group from England, had been booked a month in advance. It was their first concert ever in the United States.

Their songs “Can't You Hear My Heartbeat” and “Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter” made it to the top of the charts. Their appearance fee had doubled since they signed with Gene Kaye and Father Dzema to play at Manville. But since they wanted to honor the contract, they played – at least they tried to.
That concert was held at Manville High School. An estimated 2300 teenagers packed the gymnasium.

When the band took the stage, the girls in their excitement rushed forward coming onto the stage. The group was very popular and the girls found their lead singer Peter Noone (known as Herman) very cute.

There were several adult chaperones and a police officer, but they were no match for the wave of hysterical fans. The band left the stage while the chaperones temporarily restored order. They issued a warning to the crowd that if they continued to rush the stage the band could not play. Twenty minutes later Herman’s Hermits took the stage again. But once again the onrush of the crowd plowed past the chaperones and onto the stage.
Deb Steele, who was there remembers, “We fans on the floor were surging forward towards the elevated stage. Frightened looking teachers who were supposed to maintain order could not.” The girls wanted to hug the guys in the band. The crowd was out of control and it was a dangerous situation.

So, the band left for good. The chaperones announced that the Hermits had left. Some kids exited, but most stayed as the gymnasium had sound equipment and records for dances. So, the concert became a dance with a DJ.
While there is no video of the Manville concert, Herman’s Hermits would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show just two months later.

This performance is preserved on YouTube. The screaming by the girls offers an example of what it was like when the Hermits played. Lead singer Peter Noone, whom the girls found irresistible, had many unique facial expressions.
Peter Noone, who still performs today, was contacted by email asking if he remembered the Manville concert.

He emailed back “I remember Gene Kaye announcing us and the Hermits began playing the opening song and then I walked out to sing and the whole audience joined us onstage.” Peter seems to harbor no negative feelings about appearing in such a venue as he went on to say “I wonder why concerts are no longer played in high schools where all those lovely girls are today.”
The “Christ The King” in Manville Concerts Come to an end

Documentation shows that the final concert was in April of 1966. It featured the “Bobby Fuller Four” whose hit was “I Fought the Law and the Law Won”.

A couple of years later other Manville groups held a few of their own concerts, but the “Christ the King Church” concerts by Father Dzema and Gene Kaye ended in 1966. Three reasons are given for their ending. The sad one was that racial tensions resulted in fights – it was the sixties. The other reason was that the artists had increased their fees putting them out of reach for a church function or high school dance/concert. The final reason is that Father Dzema was transferred to a parish in Keyport in the mid-1966.
List of Concerts
DateArtistHit Song Location
May 1963Jimmy Clanton“Venus in Blue Jeans” Christ the King
Dec 1963Vito and the Salutations “Unchained Melody”Christ the King
Dec 1963Leslie Gore “It’s My Party"Christ the King
Feb 1964Four Seasons “Dawn” Christ the King
Mar 1964Bobby Rydell “Wild One”Manville High School
Apr 1964 Gary U. S. Bonds “Quarter to Three” Christ the King
Apr 1964 Rivieras and Troy Shandell“California Sun” “This Time” Christ the King
May 1964 Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song)”Christ the King
May 1964 Jimmy Clanton “Venus in Blue Jeans”Christ the King
May 1964 Duprees “You Belong to Me” Christ the King
Jun 1964 Dixie Cups “Going to the Chapel” Christ the King
Jun 1964 Isley Brothers “Twist and Shout”Christ the King
Oct 1964 Shangri Las “Leader of the Pack”Christ the King
Jan 1965 Shirley Ellis “Name Game” Christ the King
Feb 1965 Ad-Libs “The Boys From New York City” Christ the King
Feb 1965 Ronettes “Be My Little Baby” Christ the King
Feb 1965 Delrons “When A Teenager Cries” Christ the King
Apr 1965 Herman’s Hermits “I’m into Something Good” Manville High School
May 1965 Bobby Rydell “Wild One” VFW Hall
Sep 1965 Len Barry “One, Two, Three” Christ the King
Jan 1966 Newbeats “Bread and Butter” and Jive Five “My True Story”Christ the King
Jan 1966 Toys “Lover’s Concerto”Christ the King
Apr 1966 Bobby Fuller Four “I Fought the Law and the Law Won” VFW Hall
Date unknownChubby Checker “The Twist”Christ the King
Date unknownRonnie and the Hi-lites"I Wish That We Were Married"Christ the King