We played New York and Los Angeles and so many small college towns in between. We had a joke at the time -- "that town's so small John Denver's never played there." - Bill Danoff, friend and part of Denver's opening act Fat City
John Denver performed at Edina High School in the 1969-1970 school year.
Before you think that's so stereotypical Edina to book one of the top-selling artists in history, keep in mind that in 1969, John Denver was barely known. He most likely performed for free or for the opportunity to sell his albums. And based on yearbook coverage, Edina kids apparently didn't think it was a big deal at the time. The concert merited one photo (below) with no caption or further explanation.
By 1971, Denver was a household name -- in part because he played in so many small towns to build an audience in 1969 and 1970. Edina High School was hardly unique in hosting John Denver, according to this source:
"Although RCA did not actively promote Rhymes & Reasons with a tour, Denver himself embarked on an impromptu supporting tour throughout the Midwest, stopping at towns and cities as the fashion took him, offering to play free concerts at local venues. When he was successful in persuading a school, college, American Legion Hall, or local coffee-house to let him play, he would spend a day or so distributing posters in the town and could usually be counted upon to show up at the local radio station, guitar in hand, offering himself for an interview."
Edina does have one small role in Denver's career. On his way to stardom, Denver lived in Edina and wrote much of the material for his first three albums here, including his first No. 1 song, "Sunshine on My Shoulders," according to Denver's obituary written by StarTribune writer Jon Bream.
For those who weren't around in the 1974 when this song hit No. 1 on the charts, here it is. (From the John Denver Archives on YouTube) For those who were around in the 1970s, this song is no doubt burned in your memories because of its constant play.
Minnesota weather inspired the song, Denver told Bream. "It was one of those late-winter early-spring days. It was one of those cold, dreary days where everything is gray," he said. "Spring is in fact happening. That's why the song is slow and melancholy."
Several sources say that Denver and his wife Ann Martell Denver made an Edina apartment their home base while Denver was on the road from 1968 to 1971. Our phone directories from that period don't list Denver, Martell or Denver's birth name Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., so I'm guessing that he had an unlisted phone number even though he hadn't hit super stardom yet. Anyone know where he lived? (I've heard several theories.)
How did Denver, who is most associated with his adopted state of Colorado, happen to live in Minnesota?
He married a St. Peter girl Ann Martell, whom he met while on tour in 1966. "After a concert at Gustavus Adolphus College, he spotted a pretty sophomore in the student union. 'I wore blue jeans, lumberjack shirt and penny loafers. John later told me he fell in love on the spot,' recounts Annie. But it wasn't until a year later, when John was giving a concert 10 miles away, that they had their first date," People magazine reported in 1979.
The interview with the couple revealed that their years in Minnesota were not easy because of John's long absences while he toured. On top of that, John went from "obscure folkie" when they first met to an artist with gold albums, TV specials and even a part in a movie.
The change was not without benefits - the couple built their dream house in Colorado and started a family. While Annie kept the home fires burning, Denver returned to Minnesota several times for concerts. This time, instead of high school gymnasiums or college student unions, he filled the St. Paul Civic Center five times in one year, the Minneapolis Tribune reported on May 11, 1975.
Do you know where John and Annie Denver lived in Edina? Were you in the audience when Denver performed at Edina High School? Was it a bigger deal than the yearbook coverage suggests? If you can fill in the gaps of John Denver's Edina history, please email me or comment here.
I asked, you answered. I received a couple of responses regarding last week's post "What's going on? Captions needed," showing photos that were part of a collection donated by former Edina High School teachers Del and Lavonne Frederickson.
Jeff Thompson identified the Time cover pictured in the background: the Aug. 13, 1973 issue featuring Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson.
While we Minnesotans were pretty proud of making national press, I was surprised that it was named one of the magazine's 10 Worst Covers. What?! Did those jealous Wisconsin-ites or Iowans skew the voting?
Judge for yourself: the article is available online at the Time website.
More importantly, Jeff could identify some of the Edina students in the photos.
The students are Polly Peterson standing on the left and her brother Mark Peterson standing in the middle. Robin Peterson who is not related is sitting in the middle. My guess is this is the Student Council in 1975.
(By the way, Polly Peterson later was crowned Miss Minnesota USA. For more about Edina's beauty pageant winners, see this post.)
With Jeff's help narrowing down the date, we can check the correct yearbook for the other names.
Another reader, Sue (Naas) Manske helped with another photo in the Frederickson collection:
Not sure if this picture was taken in 1970, but at least two of the students are from the class of 1970. Standing are Steve Precht and Dennis Hughes. I think the other 2 are from the class of '70 also....I can refer you to several people from the class of '70 that organized the last reunion and they can probably give you more names.
Sue and I exchanged emails, and we hope to have names with those faces soon.
I also have a few more people identified in a Morningside kindergarten photo (from this post.) Kirk Nelson recently identified himself (bottom row, number 6) and some of his classmates. I added the names to the list. If anyone can help identify the rest of these cute kindergartners or anyone else in our photos posted on the blog, please email me or comment on the individual post.
Thanks to all who help me with my archiving duties. Happy Monday, everyone!
Edina-Morningside Junior High (Wooddale School) newspaper article, Oct. 28, 1947
How many American children grew up with their parents telling them to "eat all your vegetables. There are starving people in (insert your mom's choice of country here) who would love to have your broccoli."
If you didn't grow up during World War II, you may not know that the Clean Plate Club was part the homefront's effort to help win the war. You might wonder: how could eating all your food take down Hitler?
As this article from the Edina-Morningside Junior High newspaper "Blue and Gold" reported, America could send more supplies to our starving allies, if only students would eat their bread crusts.
The philosophy is an interesting contrast to the national response to the ongoing War on Terror: going shopping. Instead of urging citizens to cut back, officials tell us to spend money for a stronger economy and a stronger America. What's more, today you're not supposed to clean your plate, unless you want to eat your way to obesity.
And this, my friends, is why I love history. As times change, attitudes change. We are constantly challenged by the past to re-consider what we believe to be true for today.
I found this story in our archives when I was looking for stories for our upcoming exhibit "Edina's Greatest Generation." I also think it would be great as part of another exhibit we're working on about the history of Edina schools.For such a little article, it tells a lot about how Edina lived in the 1940s.
On March 27, 1859, residents of what would become northern Edina formed Independent School District No. 17 and decided to build a school at Code's Corner, the important intersection of Highway 100 and Valley View Road. They decided not to commence classes until each family had donated three-fourths of a cord of wood.
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