Who was John Denver? Learn about this legendary music artist.

Who Was John Denver?

A legendary artist whose love for the state of Colorado shines through the lyrics of his music, John Denver was a creative visionary and one of the most beloved singer-songwriters of his time. His imaginative mind and peaceful spirit still influence millions today through the legacy of his music.

Starting Out in the Music Industry

John Denver was born on New Year’s Eve 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico, as Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.  His father, “Dutch,” was a record-breaking pilot in the United States Air Force, and because he was born into a military family, young John lived in a number of places while growing up. His grandmother gave him his first guitar, and he got his first major break during an audition for the popular Chad Mitchell Trio. Chad Mitchell was leaving the group, and he was chosen as the new lead singer over 250 other hopefuls. Young Deutschendorf started writing songs at an early age and made demos of some of them, including a 1967 song he called “Babe, I Hate to Go.” In 1969, Peter, Paul & Mary, the most popular folk group of that decade, had their first and only No. 1 hit with a cover of Denver’s renamed “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” By then, Deutschendorf had chosen the new professional name of John Denver to honor what he said was his “favorite state, Colorado” and also because the newly named Mitchell Trio could not fit Deutschendorf on the marque. The Mitchell Trio morphed into Denver, Boise and Johnson (Michael Johnson, who wrote “Bluer Than Blue”) and disbanded in 1969.

Success as a Solo Artist

Less than two years later, Denver was zooming up the pop charts with “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” the first of many hits. He soon became a household name with “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Annie’s Song,” “Back Home Again” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” The strength of Denver’s popularity was measured in record sales that few other artists have achieved, including eight platinum albums in the U.S. alone.

A cheerfully optimistic image marked Denver’s 1970s heyday, when he emerged as one of the five top-selling recording artists in the history of the music industry. Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, the couple who co-wrote Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” created the Starland Vocal Band, and the clean-cut, all-American group became the first act signed to Denver’s new Windsong label in 1975; “Afternoon Delight” was Windsong’s first and only No. 1 single.

Collaborations with Other Artists

Denver starred alongside celebrities as diverse as opera singer Beverly Sills, violinist Itzhak Perlman and flautist James Galway. Frank Sinatra was the “Friend” in Denver’s John Denver and Friend television special, and their back-to-back co-billing at Harrah’s Tahoe was one of the most sought-after tickets in the casino hotel’s history. Denver and Placido Domingo recorded “Perhaps Love,” a song written by Denver, as a duet, earning the Spanish tenor considerable recognition outside of the opera world.

Environmentalism and Humanitarianism 

Due to his popularity, John Denver was given a platform to pursue his passions for environmental and humanitarian causes. He founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976 as an education and demonstration center dedicated to the creation of a sustainable future. He was known for his close friendship with Jacques Cousteau, the most famous underseas explorer of the 20th century; he wrote “Calypso” in 1975 as a tribute to Cousteau and his research boat of the same name, which sailed around the world for oceanic conservation.

Denver took his music beyond American shores, traveling to mainland China (where he was the first Western artist to do a multi-city tour) and the Soviet Union (the first time an artist had been invited to give public performances since the cultural exchange agreement expired in 1980), as well as Europe, the Far East, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. His charitable activities included a trip to Africa to publicize the food crisis there, and act as spokesman for UNICEF’s fundraising drive.

Movies and the Muppets

When Denver guest-starred on The Muppet Show, he began a life-long friendship with Jim Henson that spawned two television specials with the Muppets ensemble. Denver’s movie debut alongside George Burns in the comedy Oh God! was a solid hit. He also starred and guest-starred in many television productions, including the seasonal special A Christmas Gift, filmed in the Rocky Mountains in 1986. He guest-hosted The Tonight Show on multiple occasions and hosted the Grammy Awards five times.

Denver was a photography buff for three decades, taking picture of people and places during his many tours around the country and abroad. Denver’s father had taught him how to fly, and their shared passion for flying brought them closer together.  Denver, a licensed pilot, died at the age of 53 when his experimental aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean in October 1997.

John Denver & Colorado Tourism

John Denver’s effect on the world of music is felt the strongest in Colorado, where “Rocky Mountain High” is one of two official state songs. People from all over the world have fallen in love with the images he portrayed of the mountains and countryside surrounding his adopted state, and want to experience some of that beauty in person. John Denver fans can enjoy a variety of landmarks celebrating his life and career, including the Colorado Music Hall of Fame; Denver was the Hall’s first inductee in 2011.

Visit our website to learn more about the John Denver music exhibit and the musician’s inspiring life, as well as to see upcoming events on the CMHOF schedule for 2019. 

 

The Lumineers

The Lumineers Play at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame

With their rootsy blend of Americana and indie rock, The Lumineers deliver foot-stomping, dynamic live performances that draw crowds to sold-out shows. Their message and authentic passion for the music resonates with audiences around the world, making them one of today’s most beloved, inspiring bands.

Passionate Storytelling

New Jersey natives Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites began collaborating and playing gigs in New York City in 2005. Moving from covers to writing original music, they experimented with various styles while working several jobs just to pay rent. In doing so, they discovered that while New York was a fantastic place to grow creatively, they couldn’t make the time to focus on their music. They moved to Denver in 2006 to explore a more affordable market.

As it turned out, the move to Denver and teaming up with classically trained cellist Neyla Pekarek was the change they needed to kickstart their professional music career. A recent college graduate, Pekarek was planning a career in music education when she took a chance and answered a Craigslist ad for a cellist. Open mic nights allowed the lineup to test new material at such Denver venues as the Meadowlark and Larimer Lounge. In the process, The Lumineers attracted the interest of Onto Entertainment and signed with the management company, which funded the band’s first recording. The eponymous album was produced by Ryan Hadlock at Bear Creek Studio in Seattle, and “Ho Hey” was released as the first single. It was part of the CW’s Hart of Dixie season finale, and a Seattle morning show DJ began playing it twice in a row daily, declaring it the best song of 2012 and fueling a national buzz. The song went on to reach #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Triple A Radio Charts for eight straight weeks, culminating in two Grammy Award nominations in 2013.

In 2016 the band released Cleopatra, and the single “Ophelia” went to #1 on the Triple A Charts for thirteen weeks. After that, The Lumineers embarked on a world tour that included shows with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and U2. Now Schultz and Fraites are working on their third album with new members and an exciting new sound, and the band is poised to become one of Colorado’s most successful acts.

Colorado’s Deep Musical Roots

For more than a century, Colorado has been a mecca for musicians.

Denver’s love affair with music blossomed in the 1920s, at the height of the jazz age with Paul Whiteman. Musicians such as Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker played at the Rossonian Hotel in Five Points, and artists as diverse as Charlie Burrell, guitarist Bill Frisell, Chet Baker, and Frank Sinatra hung out in establishments ranging from El Chapultepec to the Roxy. In the 1960s, bluegrass and folk took center stage, with Judy Collins and the Denver Folklore Center moving into the spotlight. John Denver

found a home in Aspen and artists from Townes Van Zante to Little Feat found an audience at venues like Chuck Morris’s Ebbets Field. Through the years, everything from hip-hop to punk, funk, and country have found a place here. Denver audiences have always been full of passionate, adventurous music lovers. No single style or sound dominates the scene, unlike at many other urban music centers. Artists come to Denver to make great music, so it’s no surprise that The Lumineers found their voice here.

Earning Their Place in the Spotlight

After spending years in local venues, The Lumineers have gone from a hardworking Denver act with incredible talent to an international headliner. On December 3, 2018, the band played at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony for longtime Colorado promoter and artist manager Chuck Morris and 97.3 KBCO. The gala also included performances by Isaac Slade and Ben Wysocki of The Fray, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Billy Nershi from String Cheese Incident, Amos Lee, Leo Kottke, Vince Herman and Drew Emmett from Leftover Salmon, and Big Head Todd & The Monsters with Hazel Miller and Chris Daniels and the Kings. Such diversity is at the heart of Colorado’s music scene. To learn more, visit our website to read about everyone from John Denver to Dianne Reeves, as well as events and inductions coming in 2019.

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Who Is Otis Taylor?

Otis Taylor is a critically acclaimed blues musician whose work speaks to the tragic, haunting legacy of America’s treatment of the disenfranchised, often, specifically, African-Americans. His songs provided emotional resonance in popular movies and hit television shows, and his albums have proved themselves to be a soundtrack to the darkest moments one can experience.

Yet, as he puts it in his official website’s biography, “I’m good at dark, but I’m not a particularly unhappy person. I’d just like to make enough money to buy a Porsche.” Furthermore, before his songs reached critical fame, he achieved a level of local celebrity in Denver, not for the genius of his music, but because, as a teenager, he rode to school on a unicycle while strumming his banjo.

Early Life

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1948, Otis Taylor was only a child when his uncle was shot to death. Seeking to raise their son in a safer environment, his parents moved the family to Denver. There, Taylor fell in love with blues music and the banjo. However, after learning of the racially charged history behind the popularity of the instrument, he developed his guitar and harmonica skills.

As a young man, Taylor toured Europe and North America as a professional musician, and played for a short time with Zephyr, with famed vocalist Candie Givens, and later with the Legendary 4Niktors. In 1977, Taylor stepped away from his passion to become an antique dealer. During this time, he also utilized his experience as a master unicyclist and coached a nationally ranked cycling team.

Music Career

It took until 1995 for Taylor to restart his musical career. He began by playing an intimate show in Boulder, and one year later he released his first album, “Blue-Eyed Monster.” His impactful second album, “When Negroes Walked the Earth,” brought critical acclaim and started a prolific period that saw him produce nine albums from 2001 to 2010, many with the Telarc International.

During this period, he also stretched the definition of blues, originating a fusion genre Taylor dubbed “trance-blues.” This musical form calls for repetitive looping beats that create space for urgent lyrics falling on the darker end of the emotional register.

Taylor brought this genre to the music festival space when he created and performed in the first ever Trance Blues Festival. Staying true to his Colorado roots, the festival plays every year in Boulder.

Over the years Taylor’s deep baritone voice and consistent push for expansion of the blues genera have earned him a number of prestigious accolades including, Down Beat magazine critics’ Poll that named “Taylor’s Truth is Not Fiction” as Blues CD of the Year for 2002 and Living Blues readers’ poll awarded him “Best Blues Entertainer” title in 2004. In 2005, Down Beat named Taylor’s “Double V” as Blues CD of the Year, “Definition of a Circle” as Blues CD of the Year for 2007 and “Recapturing the Banjo” as “Blues CD of the Year, 2008.”

Contact Colorado Music Hall of Fame

For more about Otis Taylor and other Colorado music legends, visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s website. As 2018 winds to a close and 2019 are about to begin, keep a close eye on the calendar for future musical events.

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Chuck Morris & KBCO

Colorado has a rich musical history. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the contributions of legendary music promoter Chuck Morris, and 97.3 KBCO that got its start in Boulder, Colorado. Morris and 97.3 are set to be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame this December 3rd at the Paramount Theater. Read on to learn more about these two titans of the Colorado music scene and get tickets to be part of this historic community event.

Chuck Morris

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Chuck Morris established himself as a Colorado music industry institution. After leaving the Ph.D. program in political science at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Morris was offered a job managing The Sink, a restaurant and bar on the Hill where he brought in acts as varied as Tommy Bolin and Flash Cadillac. With partner Herb Kauvar, they bought and re-opened Tulagi nightclub. At Tulagi, Morris brought Boulder the first real concert hall experience, bringing in Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt, and The Doobie Brothers on their very first tours.

In 1974, he brought his prolific ear for music to Denver where he booked early tours of Richard Pryor, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Martin, and Carole King at Ebbets Field Nightclub with his financial partner Barry Fey. Morris recently told The Daily Camera, “I thought I would be doing this music thing for six months and then go back to graduate school. That was 50 years ago.”

Since then, Morris has continued to drive the Colorado music community as a world-class promoter and an artist manager, and most recently in a bid to bring a 4,000-seat theater to downtown Denver called the Mission Ballroom opening in 2019.

KBCO

97.3 first went on the airwaves in 1977 and established itself in the Boulder community as the premier station for playing both well-known artist’s deep album cuts and discovering young unknown artists. At the time, there were no stations that gave airtime to indie bands and performers, and KBCO found a massive audience hungry for new, upcoming bands and performers. The strength of KBCO’s increased transmission power brought the station to the entire Front Range and that combined with their deep community involvement, from Kinetics to the Studio C sessions released on CD. This supported The Boulder Valley Aids Project and Food Bank of The Rockies with millions of dollars in fundraising that led to 97.3 KBCO becoming not just world-class rock, but a Colorado music icon that is as vibrant today as it was when it started in the 1970s. From their featuring of local artists on “Local Edition” to their hosting of the national Triple A Radio Convention and its long history of environmental activism, 97.3 KBCO is more than just radio; it is the music of our lives.

Be a Part of Colorado History

The inductees will be honored on December 3rd at the Paramount Theater. More than seven musical acts will pay tribute including The Lumineers, Leo Kottke, Isaac Slade of the Fray, Amos Lee, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, members of Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and surprise guests – plus

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper leading a “roast” of Morris this is a not-to-be-missed event. To attend this fun event and honor some of the most prolific members of the Colorado music scene, grab tickets here. If you’re interested in learning more about Colorado’s musical history, visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and check out our exhibits that range from 20th Century Pioneers to John Denver.