On The Fringe
In a career that has spanned more than two decades, John Denver has earned international acclaim as a songwriter, performer, actor and humanitarian.
Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. began his career in the 1960s as an aspiring folk musician in the clubs of Los Angeles. The son of a U.S. Air Force officer, John took his performing name from the premier Rocky Mountain city in the state where he eventually made his home.
Denver's first major break came when he was chosen from 250 other hopefuls as lead singer for the popular Chad Mitchell Trio, with whom he sang for two years. His songwriting skills were noted when Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his "Leaving On A Jet Plane" which became their first Number One hit.
Less than two years later, Denver was himself zooming up the Pop charts with "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Rocky Mountain High," "Sunshine On My Shoulders" "Annie's Song," "Back Home Again," "Thank God I'm A Country Boy," "Calypso" and more, solidifying his position as one of the top stars of the decade. Many of his songs tapped into the growing appreciation and concern for the environment, which has continued as a matter of major importance for Denver and for us all.
Denver's popularity since the early 1970s may be measured in record sales that few other artists have achieved, including 14 gold albums and 8 platinum albums in the U.S. alone. He has had many gold and platinum sales overseas as well, in countries including Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. The LP "John Denver's Greatest Hits" is still one of the largest selling albums in the history of RCA Records, with world-wide sales of over 10 million copies. John Denver is one of the top five recording artists in the sales history of the music industry.
Denver's concert tours have reached millions globally, from the U.S. and Canada throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Orient and the United Kingdom. Denver's travels in recent years have crossed ideological lines as well. In 1984 he was invited by the Soviet Union of Composers to perform in their country. The success of that visit led to a concert tour of the U.S.S.R. in 1985. These were the first performances by an American artist since the suspension, at that time, of cultural exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union. He returned to the U.S.S.R. in 1987 to do a benefit concert for the victims of Chernobyl. Denver was the first artist from the West to do a multi-city tour of mainland China, in October 1992. He was pleased and somewhat astonished to discover how popular and well-known his songs were with the Chinese. "Take Me Home, Country Roads," he was told, "is the most famous song written in the west." A great favorite through the Orient, Denver hopes to return to China and Southeast Asia as often as his schedule permits.
Denver's audiences in the English-speaking world have always been loyal and large; he is much admired in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, an affection he returns. His popularity continues in Holland, Germany, France and Italy, and he plans to expand his touring to include Eastern European countries as well.
Denver has a wide range of performance capabilities, extending from solo appearances with only a guitar and his own rice voice to working with a vocal group and a string quartet to appearing as a guest with many major American symphony orchestras; he is a perennial favorite with the Boston Pops.
"My music and all my work stem from the conviction that people everywhere are intrinsically the same," Denver says. "When I write a song, I want to take the personal experience or observation that inspired it and express it in as universal a way as possible. I'm a global citizen. I've created that for myself, and I don't want to step away from it. I want to work in whatever I do - my music, my writing, my performing, my commitments, my home and personal life - in a way that is directed towards a world in balance, a world that creates a better quality of life for all people." This, among other dedications, has led to the establishment of the Windstar Foundation, a non-profit environmental education and research center co-founded by Denver in 1976 that works toward a sustainable future for the world.
Not just a fine performer, Denver's music clearly reflects the conscious of a concerned citizen, a man working for the improvement of the quality of life for all peoples - environmentally, socially and politically. He was asked to serve as a member of the Presidential Commission on World and Domestic Hunger. He was one of the five founders of The Hunger Project, and, as part of both that commitment and to UNICEF as well, he was a member of the fact-finding delegation which toured African countries devastated by drought and starvation. Denver was awarded the Presidential "World Without Hunger" Award; he is a supporter of the National Wildlife Federation, Save the Children, The Cousteau Society, Friends of the Earth and the Human/Dolphin Foundation, to name just a few. Most recently, Denver created "Plant-It 2000", a plan that urges people all over the world to plant as many trees as possible by the year 2000. This is a reforestation project aimed at encouraging citizens everywhere to recognize the necessity of replenishing what the world has wantonly destroyed. "Plant-It 2000" has met with instant response from people everywhere in all walks of life, including major foundations, businesses and institutions. Nearly 100,000 trees have been planted in its first year of operation.
Denver's 25th album, "One World," featured the internationally acclaimed single "Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?)" A separate and unique version of the song was recorded in Moscow as a duet with the well-known Soviet singer Alexandre Gradsky. That recording was the first time a Soviet artist was allowed to perform on a record with a major American singer. The powerful video of "Let Us Begin" moved viewers around the world.
Denver's numerous tributes and awards include acknowledgements of the Number One recording artist in the U.S., Favorite Music Performer, People's Choice Awards, AGVA Singing Star of the Year, Yamaha Music Award and recognition from many governments for his concern about global hunger problems. In the summer of 1993, Denver was the recipient of the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Music Award, given to him "For a life's work dedicated to music and devoted to humanity." It was the first time a non-classical music artist had been so honored.
Denver's movie debut in "Oh God!" (with George Burns) was a solid hit, as were his TV roles that included starring in "Foxfire" with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. He has also starred and guest starred in many TV specials - with such notable artists as Itzhak Perlman, Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo, Julie Andrews and the beloved frog, Kermit. Indeed, Denver's Christmas special "John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together," is considered a classic. In 1993, Denver completed his first movie since "Oh God!" Called "Walking Thunder," it stars him as he most likes to be - in country clothes, under an open sky.
Many people know of Denver's two passions: flying and outer space. He is not only a licensed pilot with his own Lear jet, but an aerobatic pilot, and is licensed to fly gliders. He has flown Air Force F-15 fighters and the Space Shuttle simulator. NASA has awarded him its public service medal for helping "increase awareness of space exploration by the people of the world." Denver deeply appreciates the medal, and would dearly love to ride the Shuttle.
A fine photographer as well, Denver has photographed people and places all over the world and has shown his photos professionally, often in connection with speeches he has made at colleges, universities and government and business facilities across the country.
Denver immensely enjoys the out-of-doors - backpacking, hiking and climbing. He loves to fish and is found with a rod and reel as often as a guitar, turning up every so often on fishing programs on TV. An avid golfer, Denver is a yearly guest at the Bob Hope Celebrity Classic and hosts his own annual Pro-Am Celebrity Gold Tournament in Tucson every January.
There is not much that Denver has not achieved. One of the world's best-known and best-loved performers, he is a master communicator who can read audiences regardless of geography, economics, politics and language. He is the true international figure dedicated to world peace and the elimination of hunger. Denver knows better than most that his gifts are gifts indeed.
"Music does bring people together; it allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same."
Sadly, John Denver left us on October 12, 1997, when the experimental aircraft that he was piloting crashed. John certainly is missed by fans world-wide, but he remains with us through his musical legacy.
From a John Denver Fan-Dedicated Website.
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