Inducted: April 21, 2011

John Denver

John Denver (born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in 1943) was one of the most popular recording artists this country has ever known. Somewhere around the mid-’60s, he changed his name to John Denver, after the capital city of his favorite state. He later made his home in Aspen, where he lived until his death in 1997. An avid outdoorsman, photographer and environmentalist, Denver was able to indulge his passions in Colorado. In 2007, his “Rocky Mountain High” became the state’s second official song.

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Denver got his first major break during an audition for the lead singer spot in the Chad Mitchell Trio. He began writing songs after being chosen from over 250 hopefuls, and other performers soon discovered his talents.

In 1969, Peter, Paul and Mary, the most popular folk group of that decade, had a No. 1 hit with a cover of his “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

Less than two years later, Denver was zooming up the pop charts with “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and he continued to insinuate himself into the public’s consciousness with “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Annie’s Song,” “Back Home Again” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

Denver’s popularity was measured in record sales that few other artists have achieved, including eight platinum albums in the U.S. alone. John Denver’s Greatest Hits is still the biggest-selling album in the history of RCA Records. A cheerfully optimistic image marked Denver’s 1970s heyday, when he became one of the five top-selling recording artists in the history of the music industry.

Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, who co-wrote “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” formed the Starland Vocal Band and became the first act signed to Denver’s Windsong label, founded in Snowmass in 1975; their “Afternoon Delight” was a No. 1 single.

Denver performed alongside celebrities as diverse as opera singer Beverly Sills, violinist Itzhak Perlman and flutist James Galway. Frank Sinatra was the “Friend” in his John Denver and Friend television special, and their 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 Denver’s “Perhaps Love” as a duet, earning the Spanish tenor considerable recognition outside of the opera world.

John Denver took his music beyond American shores, with historic performances in mainland China and the Soviet Union, as well as tours in Europe, the Far East, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. A longtime photography buff, he captured images of people and places around the country and abroad during his travels.

Denver used his popularity to promote his favorite cause: the environment. He founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976 in Snowmass as an education and demonstration center dedicated to a sustainable future. He was known for his close friendship with Jacques Cousteau, and wrote 1975’s “Calypso” as a tribute to the undersea explorer and his research boat. He also started Plant-It 2000, encouraging people around the world to plant as many trees as possible by the year 2000. Charitable activities included a trip to Africa to publicize the food crisis there and act as spokesman for UNICEF’s fundraising drive.

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Denver’s lifelong friendship with Muppets puppeteer Jim Henson spawned two now-classic specials, A Christmas Together and Rocky Mountain Holiday. His movie debut in the comedy Oh God! alongside George Burns was a solid hit, and he starred in many television productions, including The Christmas Gift, which was filmed in the Rocky Mountains in 1986.

Denver’s father, a U.S. Air Force test pilot nicknamed “Dutch,” taught him how to fly, and their shared passion brought them closer together. Sadly, Denver, a licensed pilot, died at age 53 when his experimental aircraft crashed in the Pacific Ocean in October 1997.

The Colorado Music Hall of Fame was proud to induct John Denver on April 21, 2011.

Denver’s popularity was measured in record sales that few other artists have achieved, including eight platinum albums in the U.S. alone.

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