John Denver, born Henry John Deutchendorf, in 1943, was one of the most popular singer-songwriters in the United States. His songs were frequently at the top of the hit lists and he was awarded several gold and platinum records in recognition of the sales of large numbers of his albums. Denver used his celebrity and the financial resources that it provided him to support several organizations focused on environmental and wildlife preservation. Among the recipients of Denver’s support were the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, The Cousteau Society, and the Windstar Foundation. Denver died in a private, light plane accident while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1997.
John Denver was born in Roswell, NM, in 1943. His father was an air force officer, and the family moved often, following his career. Denver spent his teenage years in the Fort Worth, TX area, where he played high school football and learned to play a guitar given to him by his grandmother. After high school, Denver attended college, studying architecture, but left before graduating to pursue a career in music. He soon changed his name from Deutchendorf to Denver so that his name would fit on a record label.
Denver’s first big break as a singer came when he won the job of lead singer with the Chad Mitchell Trio, a very popular folk group in the 1960s. This exposure opened the way for future success. By the late 1960s Denver was known as an excellent songwriter, and his “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, sung by the group Peter, Paul, and Mary, rose to number one on the charts. What followed was a string of successful singles and albums, including “Calypso”, Rocky Mountain High”, and “Country Roads”. Denver’s singing career expanded into television appearances, movies, and, eventually, appearances in places like the Soviet Union, China, and Viet Nam as a cultural ambassador for the United States. One of his last major projects was the WildLife Concert in 1995, done in support of the Wildlife Society.
As Denver’s career progressed he began to direct some of his energy to causes which interested him. In 1976, he and Tom Crum established the Windstar Foundation to further their shared interest in environmental concerns. Windstar was created to “educate, inspire, and empower people to make responsible choices for a healthy environment.” (http://windstar.org/).
Windstar seeks to apply a “holistic approach to global issues.” Through Windstar, Denver became involved with the work of many other foundations, some of which have a direct connection to the cause of animal welfare. One of his more famous songs, “Calypso”, was written to honor the work of Jean Jacque Cousteau, the Cousteau Society, and the famous ship “Calypso” that supported that work. Denver also supported the work of the National Wildlife Foundation, the Friends of the Earth, and the Human/Dolphin Foundation. He gave time and talent, as well as money, to these organizations. The famous WildLife Concert, 1995, was performed to honor the one hundredth anniversary of the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the oldest and largest conservation organizations in the world. During the concert Denver performed many songs, including “You Say the Battle is Over,” a clear and poignant call to advocate for wildlife preservation.
During the latter part of John Denver’s career, he became more involved with the issues that interested him. Denver spent time touring other countries, most notably China and the Soviet Union, as a cultural ambassador. He was the first American artist to record a song with an artist from the Soviet Union when they made a duet recording of “Let Us Begin” in Moscow in the late 1980s. Denver also spent time working on the environmental concerns that had become so important to him. This work was recognized by several groups, and Denver received many awards, including the Whale Protection Fund Service Award, the 1990 National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award, and the International Center for Tropical Ecology World Ecology Award.
Another of Denver’s interests was flying. He was a pilot, and owned his own aircraft. He was also interested in spaceflight, and took the astronaut qualification test. He flew the space shuttle simulator, and hoped to go into space on the shuttle, but never had the opportunity. Denver died in the crash of the plane he was piloting in 1997. He evidently lost control of the aircraft while flying over the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of California.
John Denver is important to the cause of animal welfare, and to conservation in general because he was a cultural icon whose words and behaviors were very influential to large numbers of people. He used his talent and position to reach and influence millions of people throughout the world. If some of these people were made aware of the issues surrounding conservation and animal welfare and were motivated to take some action, whether that was to make a donation, or to join a group, then Denver’s advocacy of these causes was very effective. Without significant individuals like Denver it is very hard to disseminate an idea or further a cause in a large, modern society dominated by mass media.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
John Denver allowed his position as a cultural icon, and his talent as a musician to be used by many organizations in the philanthropic sector to draw attention to their causes and to recruit supporters from the public at large. He found himself in the role of an influential person, and used his influence to support causes he believed in. People like Denver are important to the philanthropic sector in a large, urban society which gets information through mass media. Without the influential individuals, who attract media attention, it would be very difficult to advocate a cause to the public. If the media doesn’t present your story to the public, no one can hear or respond to that story.
Key Related Ideas
- Advocacy: The act of supporting an idea or cause.
- Celebrity: someone who is famous during their own lifetime. The act of being famous.
- Animal Welfare: the compassion and respect due animals as living, responsive beings. Animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and this is not to be left to the compassionate impulses of humans, but is an entitlement that must be protected under the law.
Important People Related to the Topic
- Ryan Newman: Newman is star NASCAR driver who has been interested in animal welfare issues for many years. He and his wife, Krissie, established a foundation, The Ryan Newman Foundation through which they support animal welfare organizations and activities. (https://www.rescueranch.com/).
- Thomas Crum: Crum was the co-founder of the Windstar Foundation along with John Denver. He is a teacher of Aikido, a martial art that uses energy rather than force to resolve conflicts. His work is widely respected among business and environmental group leaders. Crum is a proponent of the holistic approach to problem solving that Windstar advocates. (http://aikiworks.com/).
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- The Cousteau Society at (http://www.cousteausociety.org) focuses on marine environments and animal welfare.
- Friends of the Earth at (https://foe.org/) has been a Windstar partner on several issues.
- The National Wildlife Federation at (http://www.nwf.org) was involved with many projects supported by Windstar and John Denver.
Related Web Sites
- http://www.john-denver.org is a good place to look for any information concerning Denver and his career.
- https://www.sonymusic.com/artists/JohnDenver/concert.html gives good background and a description of the Wildlife Concert.
- http://www.wstar.org is a good source of information on the Windstar Foundation, its philosophy, and its projects.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
- http://www.john-denver.org/Default.asp?id=22 lyrics for “You Say the Battle is Over”