Click below to hear our patriotic song of the week.
Featured Musician of the Week:
1943 - 1997 American
Genres: Folk, Country Pop, Country Rock
Listening Example: "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
West Virginia State Anthem
Henry John Duetschendorf [doy-chen-dorf] is known professionally as John Denver. Denver was an American singer-songwriter and actor. He made his success as a solo singer during in the 1970’s. By 1974, he was established as America’s best-selling performer and one of the most popular and beloved entertainers of his era.
Denver performed and recorded mostly with an acoustic guitar and sang about his joy in nature, his enthusiasm for music, and his relationships with people.
John Denver had several ‘signature’ songs for which he was known, and which became No. 1 hits on the music charts. These include “Take Me Home, Country Roads; Annie’s Song; Sunshine on My Shoulders; Rocky Mountain High; and Thank God, I’m a Country Boy”. These songs will be our listening examples for this week.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” was recorded in 1971 and released on Denver's first album. This became one of his most popular songs, and it is still very popular around the world. It is even included in school music textbooks.
SOCIAL STUDIES CONNECTION
LISTEN FOR . . . The words were inspired by little, winding roads taken while traveling, and a friend’s stories about the splendors of the West Virginia countryside. Co-writers Danoff and Nivert wanted to sell the song to country singer Johnny Cash, but John Denver said he wanted to record it himself.
What does West Virginia have in common with Weiner Elementary School? The song is an iconic symbol of West Virginia, which it describes as “almost Heaven”. And, since March 2014, it has been the West Virginia State Anthem. Incidentally, the state bird of West Virginia is the cardinal!
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
"Rhymes and Reasons" is a beautiful song about people's feelings. Photos help express the lyrics.
Listening Example: "Rocky Mountain High"
Colorado State Song
John Denver was born in New Mexico, but grew up traveling and living in numerous locations with his military family. His father, known as “Dutch”, was an Air Force officer who set three speed records in the B-58 Hustler bomber and earned a place in the Air Force Hall of Fame. John Denver inherited a love of flying from his father, but it was his grandmother who gave him his first guitar and encouraged him in his music.
Lt. Col. "Dutch" Duetschendorf, wife Erma and son Henry, Jr., a.k.a. John Denver
Air Force B-58 "Hustler" Bomber
At age twenty, Denver moved to Los Angeles, the place of the 1960’s music scene. His friends urged him to change his name if he wanted a recording career. He took his stage name from the capital city of his favorite state, Colorado. Later in life, Denver and his family settled in Aspen, Colorado. His love for the Rocky Mountains inspired many of his songs.
In the 1970’s, Denver’s onstage appearance included long blond hair, embroidered shirts associated with the American West, and “granny” glasses.
“Rocky Mountain High” is a folk rock song recorded in 1972. It is one of the two official state songs of Colorado. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time. One of the verses refers to the destruction of the mountains by commercial tourism. The song has been used in pop culture, and the Snowmass ski resort, near Aspen, named a ski run “Rocky Mountain High’ in honor of John Denver.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
"Rocky Mountain High" performed live with lyrics.
The video below has illustrations to express the lyrics.
"This Old Guitar" has a commentary by Denver about how his grandmother gave him her 1910 Gibson guitar.
"Poems, Prayers and Promises" is a song about reflecting on one's life. Expressive photos included.
Listening Example: "Calypso"
During the 1970’s, John Denver became outspoken in politics. He actively supported charitable causes for the homeless, the poor, the African AIDS crisis, and he founded the World Hunger Project.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan presented Denver with the Presidential World Without Hunger Award.
Denver also loved nature and supported concerns for environmental issues and conservation.
SCIENCE CONNECTION John Denver was a close friend of Jacque Cousteau. Cousteau was an undersea explorer, photographer and writer. He produced TV shows which enlightened audiences around the world on the ocean’s natural treasures and the effects of pollution.
John Denver and Jacques Cousteau
Calypso was the name of Jacques Cousteau’s exploration ship that sailed around the world for ocean conservation. John Denver expressed his interests in ecology in the 1975 song, “Calypso”, which was a tribute to Cousteau and his research team.
LISTEN FOR . . . The opening harp glissando and the guitar rhythm create a sense of forward motion that reflects the sailing ship.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Click below to hear Denver's song and watch video footage of his experiences on the ship.
Listening Example: "Annie's Song"
During the 70’s and 80’s, Denver starred in several films and television specials.
He was a guest star on The Muppet Show, which began a lifelong friendship with Jim Henson and led to other Muppet specials.
He starred in the 1977 film Oh, God! with comedian George Burns.
(Denver was offered the lead role in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman, but he turned it down, and the role was given instead to Richard Gere.)
He also hosted several Academy Awards and The Tonight Shows.
Creator Jim Henson and the Muppets
Scene from Rocky Mountain Christmas
Denver’s talent extended beyond music. He pursued photography, saying “photography is a way to communicate a feeling”. He was an avid snow skier and golfer, but his main interest was in flying. His love of flying was second only to his love of music. His father had taught him to fly, and he bought a Learjet to fly himself to concerts. He collected several types of small planes.
Denver was also a supporter of space exploration. In 1980, he and his father, an Air Force Lt. Col., co-hosted a TV special called “The Higher We Fly: the History of Flight”. This film won an award from the Aviation/Space Writer’s Association.
Denver with his father, Lt. Col. "Dutch" Deutschendorf
How fast can a songwriter write a song? Our song for today is called “Annie’s Song”. “Annie’s Song” was written as an ode (poem) to Denver’s wife, Annie. He “wrote this song in about ten-and-a-half minutes one day on a ski lift” to the top of Bell Mountain in Aspen, Colorado, as the physical exhilaration of having “just skied down a very difficult run”, and the feeling of total immersion in the beauty of the colors and sounds that filled all senses inspired him to think about his wife.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Click below to hear "Annie's Song" with lyrics and illustrations.
Click below to hear Denver's live performance of "Annie's Song".
Click below to hear “Sunshine on My Shoulders”. Denver wrote this song when he was in Minnesota at a time when it was late winter/early spring--perhaps in March. It was a dreary, gray, slushy winter day, when he was ready for spring and feeling kind of sad. He remembered how sometimes just the sun itself can make you feel good.
. Denver joins the Muppets singing "12 Days of Christmas"
50-minutes episode of A Christmas Together with the Muppets.
Listening Example: "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"
Throughout his life, John Denver recorded and released approximately 300 songs, about 200 of which he composed. In 1996, he was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. His career lasted four decades, and his music has outlasted changing musical trends.
Denver was accidentally killed in 1997 when the experimental plane he was flying crashed into Monterrey Bay in California. He was the only occupant of the aircraft.
Denver had lived in Aspen, Colorado for much of his life, and upon announcement of Denver’s death, the governor of Colorado ordered all state flags to be lowered to half staff in his honor. On April 21, 2011, Denver became the first inductee in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
John Denver expressed caring and a kind of optimism through his songs, and he brought new importance to acoustic music, bridging folk, pop, and country in a fresh way. His optimism is heard in our song for today, which is “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
John Denver's last song, "Yellowstone", before his death, with commentary about his concern for nature.
John Denver sings "Leaving On a Jet Plane" with Cass Elliot of The Mamas and the Papas, at a program to promote voter registration.
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