The film pays tribute to the late John Denver

Opera music

On October 12, 1997, at the age of 53, singer, songwriter, humanitarian and environmentalist John Denver died when the plane he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of his death.

Denver has recorded over 300 songs, 200 of which he composed. His music spanned the decades from the 1970s to the 1990s. He won 12 gold albums and four platinum albums for his songs, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, “Rocky Mountain High”, “Thank God I’ m a Country Boy”, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Annie’s Song”. among many others.

Acclaimed composer Lee Holdridge, who has been nominated for 18 Emmy Awards, with seven wins, and who has also worked with Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston, collaborated with Denver in 1974 on his album “Back Home Again “. He remembers telling the singer that his music would be part of American culture. “I said to [John]”You have songs that will be part of Americana. They will just be part of popular literature. People [will] just think they were there forever,” Holdridge said. “And that’s exactly what happened to some songs. It’s part of the fabric – you hear “Country Roads” everywhere and “Rocky Mountain High” – you hear a lot of those songs everywhere. He was surprised that I told him that, but I said, look, it’s going to happen.

Holdridge notes that people of all ages around the world listen to Denver music. “There are a lot of kids who know the songs. They don’t know what it is, but they love the song…and they can sing it,” Holdridge said. “It fascinates me that it’s timeless – I think that’s the best part of it all.” Holdridge believes that music has “departed from the art of songwriting”. “I worked with a lot of great artists in the 70s, 80s and 90s who were determined to have a great song. They might be great artists, but they had these great songs,” he said. And now it’s more about production and it’s very difficult to find a good song. You know, some of the songs are fun, they’re catchy, or they’re really fancy and stuff, but you don’t exactly go away saying, ‘this is a great song’. You just kind of say, ‘Yeah, okay, that’s a good record. I love this record, ‘but you don’t think about it,’ Holdridge said. Milton Okun, a legendary classically trained record producer and arranger and 16-time Grammy nominee, helped make John Denver a pop star. His love of opera came through when he brought together local Denver singing with the soaring voice of Placido Domingo. The duo recorded “Perhaps Love”, which was the title track of Domingo’s best-selling album. This opened the door to further crossover successes, including collaborations with the Three Tenors, Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli. “In a weird way, pairing that great operatic voice with the beautiful, crystal-clear folksinger gave birth to this whole era,” Holdridge said.

After Denver’s death, it was Okun’s idea to bring together Domingo and other opera singers to create a tribute to Denver. “Great Voices Sing John Denver” is an award-winning documentary about the creation of a new CD of songs from Denver reimagined by 15 singers from a completely different genre – opera.

The documentary was organized by Okun, his wife Rosemary, Holdridge and his wife, Elisa, who helped select the opera singers.
Kenneth Shapiro, known for his role as director of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” as well as a host of award-winning shows that have won Primetime Emmys, Grammys, and Oscars, is also a 22-time Emmy winner and nominee. He was hired to lead the Denver project. “Milt Okun and I met at the Los Angeles Opera,” Shapiro said. “I was there doing an opera video and Milt was on the board of the LA Opera and loved the work I was doing, had some ideas on some projects he was thinking of, including one was to do this documentary on John Denver. He basically wanted to make an album and CD for the family after John died and that’s how I got involved.

“Great Voices Sing John Denver” is a compilation of 15 opera singers performing the music of Denver with an orchestra and was screened Wednesday, October 12 at the Mary D. Fisher Theater.

“Lee [Holdridge] always thought that John’s music could stand up so well to orchestration and so it was a way of connecting two of Milt’s favorite things, which was a love of opera and a love of the orchestra” , Shapiro said. “There’s so much information about John’s life because I was one of the only people who never really knew John and worked with him,” Shapiro said. “I had worked on other productions he played over the years, but I never worked one-on-one with him. For me, it was learning the whole story beyond from what I had heard and just the story of his life. I’m still learning about his life. I’m still investigating and looking for parts. It’s like this movie still has life and I was trying to add another chapter to it.

Shapiro hinted that there might be an addendum to the movie in the future. He said that the more he is involved in this project, the more information he receives. “With some of the knowledge that I gain, especially when we do these screenings, I get a lot of questions that people ask about John’s life and some parts of his performances that we don’t include in the film. So we are considering adding a new chapter that will include some of these features,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro said he was an adrenaline junkie, living on the verge of producing live television. “I think [that’s] the whole reality of working on live television,” he said. “We’re adrenaline junkies, we like to live on the edge. We like a chance to do it right. We have a chance to perfect it,” Shapiro said. . It’s like an artist on stage in some ways. You have this unique chance to do what you do. For me, doing live TV has always been fun and you adapt as quickly as possible to what you do. But that says thrill, thrill seekers, kinda fun but yeah, I love what I do in that regard.

Shapiro and Holdridge both shared their disdain for ‘We Are the World’, which was performed on March 7, 1985, and featured a choir of 46 of music’s biggest names in other genres, all united to sing a song to help support those suffering from poverty and hunger in Africa. Denver was not invited to participate. “I know John was very hurt when he wasn’t included in ‘We Are the World,'” Holdridge said. “I was so irritated and angry with the producers for not including John. Of all the people in the world. I never quite forgave them because I thought it was an absolute insult. They had some people, but they didn’t have John Denver. Come on. Let’s be real here,” Holdridge said.

After Denver’s death, Holdridge found that all of his arrangements had been thrown out by Denver’s manager. All that remained were Holdridge’s handwritten copies and notes. Holdridge and Jim Curry, who is a tribute performer of Denver songs, helped recreate the orchestrations. “We had a library. We had everything in there, all the paper — everything was printed. And when John died, his manager decided the $300 a month it cost to maintain the music library was too much, so he threw it all away,” Holdridge said. Curry and a friend were able to digitally reconstruct everything on the computer.

As a tribute to Denver’s iconic music, Curry has been performing his music for 23 years. Curry said he was a fan of Denver music in the early 70s and learned guitar playing the music he loved. “I always sounded like John, even in my high school and college days, so it was only natural to carry that on when he was gone,” Curry said. “When we made the decision to do a tribute show, we wanted to make sure it wasn’t corny. It wasn’t Vegas, you know, it wasn’t a copycat. I sound like one person, and it happens to be my own voice.

Curry talks about the collaborations he’s done with band members, Holdridge, and many others who knew and played with Denver. “Floating in my head, what makes all these people feel comfortable collaborating with me? You know, I didn’t do anything to encourage it,” Curry said. just came together.”

While Shapiro feels Denver needs an extra chapter added to his life story, Holdridge indicated he feels he and his cohort are still working together, in spirit, after all these years. “Every time I’m working on a concert or a symphony like the one I did recently in Canada, I’d go back to the hotel, and I’d look up and say, ‘Hey, John, I’m still working for you.’ So that kind of says it all.

Curry, Holdridge and Shapiro are all in Sedona for the 25th anniversary tribute to John Denver. Curry performed Tuesday, Oct. 11 to benefit the Sedona International Film Festival at the Chuck Mabery Pavilion at Yavapai College in Clarkdale.

Carol Kahn can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 126, or by email at [email protected]