Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

John Denver and the Artistic Community's Concern about Hunger

The performing arts community has traditionally been involved in promoting human rights, environmental protection and actions to address famine, hunger and poverty. 

Folks from my generation can just barely remember Ravi Shankar and George Harrison organizing Concerts for Bangladesh to help raise funds to help refugees from that country in 1971. A decade and a half later, there was the album We Are The World, intended to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia in 1985. Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson wrote the title song for the album.

And long before Hurricane Katrina's devastating blow to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005, there was New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, with the Neville Brothers playing a prominent role in the organization's efforts to fight poverty in New Orleans (with participation of nationally known recording artists like Linda Ronstadt and Jimmy Buffet).

Much of the recent focus has been on the Irish rock band U2 and its leader Bono (along with dozens of rock groups like Coldplay) and their efforts to end global poverty and disease. As we all know, Bono was prominent in creating The ONE Campaign.  His efforts were initially channeled through an organization he created called DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa).

Few people are aware of John Denver's involvement in the anti-hunger movement. When someone mentioned his name, I usually thought of the song Take Me Home Country Roads or the sweet ballads Today or Annie's Song or of the mild mannered grocery clerk who encounters George Burns in the movie Oh God!

But did you know that John Denver, a native New Mexican, served on President Jimmy Carter's Hunger Commission? In fact, he wrote the song I Want to Live while serving on the commission. Here is an excerpt: We are standing all together...face to face and arm in arm...We are standing on the threshold of a dream...No more hunger, no more killing...no more wasting like a way..It is simply an idea...and I know its time has come....

And did you know that John Denver also wrote a song about the plight of refugees everywhere? That song, Falling Leaves, is also one of the pieces that inspired Hank Bruce, a Bread for the World member from Rio Rancho, N.M., to write an entire book called Peace Beyond All Fear: A Tribute to John Denver's Vision. 

For Hank and his wife Tomi Jill Folk, I Want to Live, has an even deeper meaning. It is the unofficial theme song for organization they helped create called Hunger Grow Away, which uses gardening as a means to fight hunger in the U.S. and around the world

Hank's book, a collection of 15 stories based on John Denver's songs, celebrates peace, the environment and the human spirit.  The stories are inspired by the singer's music; they are not the stories behind his songs.

Hanks_cover "As we rediscovered some of the other songs and learned more of the amazing amount of work he did for peace, hunger solutions, the environment and the human condition we amassed a good collection of his work, including some that was never officially recorded, or was little heard in this country," said Hank.  "As I listened to these songs, and learned more about this genius humanitarian, stories appeared."

Click here for another blog post with slightly more details about the book.

All proceeds from the sale of the book (which retails for $19.95) will be donated to Hunger Grow Away. The book  will be available through Petals and Pages Press (a publishing company that handles Hunger Grow Away materials) on Sept. 20. Send them an e-mail if you would like to purchase a copy of the book. The book will be sold at bookstores and through Amazon.com on Oct. 1.

The release of the book will be part of a global celebration, 11 Days of Peace,  put together by We The World, a place where the many movements for social change come together in an ongoing mass public education and mobilization campaign for Peace on Earth and Peace With Earth.


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I am human rights lawyer-activist in the Philippines. I grew up listening to the music of John Denver. His music helped in shaping my values and world view. My becoming a human rights lawyer - defending the poor and the oppressed- is partly a consequence of his music.

I always felt that John Denver's music has always been underrated. So many of his songs have not been played by the radio stations. In short, John Denver's music lacked commercial appeal. This is sad. I am glad though that John Denver never sacrificed the quality of his music in the altar of commercialism and greed for wealth.

Noting that John Denver's 10th death anniversary is fast approaching, I wrote a poem in his memory. I want to share it till it reaches his family.

Cheryl L. Daytec-Yangot

For John Denver (In Memoriam)
by Cheryl L. Daytec-Yangot

The loud voice that spoke for them without tongue
The courage released where there was almost none
The saber that could pierce apathy and ire
The shield from a rain of bullets gone haywire
The unguent that calmed weeping broken hearts
The refuge of them whose sapped life lost all art
A candle illuminating in the dark
Jasmine strewing fragrance in a stinking park

You asked, What are we making those weapons for?
So much money to waste! Why not feed the poor?
Why do we exile the feeble refugees
When our gluttony forced them on bended knees?
Why do we have three worlds- first, second and third?
Let’s tear down the curtain,for there’s just one world
Women everywhere must have bread and roses
Wind down their toil from years of powerlessness

A small garden snail is a creature to defend
What more human infants unable to fend
For their own survival? Pity them sans power
Life is so sacred, protect it no matter
The cabbage and tomatoes complete life’s circle
Honor their significance; respect their innate worth
Creation’s a gift; every death must give life
Death that spells more death gives birth to more strife

I listened to you, a child I may have been
I had been repeating your questions since then
You made me imagine a night in the forest
Afterwards, I nurse no dread of snakes and beasts
As I have of men whose hands pull power’s trigger
Whose callousness push the world into danger
So what is wealth when it renders others poor
What is an open gate when there is one closed door?

Your songs are in my soul, they are in my bone
You showed how a flower could shatter a stone
Your music is part of what I have become
Searching for fairness in places where’s none
Your sweet voice summons, and not just the ear
It nudges the conscience to submit to fear
Of virtues such as love, virtues such as justice
Oh, these we must serve; oh, these we must please

I look for the rhyme and reason in your death
There’s none I can see; but I still feel your breath
You had so much to share, and your all you did give
No grave lies in your name; and long you will live!

I typed the wrong URL above. So sorry.

Cheryl: Thank you for your comments and your poem. I passed it on to Hank Bruce, the author of Peace Beyond All Fear.

Cheryl: What a gift you are. My husband Hank Bruce and I will be meeting John Denver's mother Erma and first wife Annie Denver at the Windstar Foundation gathering Sunday, Oct.14th, and will bring them each a copy of your poem, so it will indeed reach his family. We will be presenting them with Hank's book "Peace Beyond All Fear, a Tribute to John Denver's Vision." Two thousand people from all over the world are expected to be meeting in Aspen, CO to honor the memory of John Denver; your poem will tell his family that his influence extends to those not able to be present at the event. At one of his memorial services the story was told that he would be amazed at the attention, as when he was young, he gave a party, invited friends, set out the food, but nobody came. Now a multitude will pause at a worship service that Sunday morning to pay tribute to his influence. A whole new generation is discovering him, thanks to YouTube and the availability of his songs on ebay. "While the singer is silent, there still is the truth of the song." Peace to you.

Carlos, thanks a lot for passing on my comment to the right people. I actually posted the poem in a Christian Memorial site for John Denver with the note that I wanted it to reach Annie Denver. Thank you for making it happen.

Tomi Jill, what can I say? I hope your husband's book reaches Philippine soil very soon. Thanks to people like your husband, John Denver's legacy will continue. Many modern day intellectuals wrote books on ideology and theories that they developed and, for their works, are now extolled by the world as philosophers. John Denver wrote and sang songs that make him no less a philosopher. The whole world will one day realize this, and Hank Bruce's book will help make it happen.

I had been a John Denver fan since I was ten and collected most of his albums. I have 21 John Denver cassette tapes. Even if tapes are now electronically obsolete, I refuse to give them up even if the electronic companies stopped manufacturing tape recorders. I just have to take care of my old tape recorders.

I am now a mother and my young children appreciate John Denver's songs. I will forever be grateful to my parents (who belong to John Denver's generation) and my older siblings for introducing me to his music.

Please tell Ms Erma Deutschendorf that her womb was so blessed for having conceived a human being who helped others see the right path and who tried the best way he could to slay the dragons stealing humanity's happiness. And please tell Ms Annie Denver that we are grateful to her for her love for her husband because it inspired his music. This music in turn taught us that love is a virtue so sacred that it must be nurtured.

Cheryl L. Daytec-Yañgot

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