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Interview – A Song For The World – Herb Allen And The Colwell Brothers

Frank McGee has produced a powerful and engaging book detailing the world-trotting antics of the beginnings of a group of young people seeking peace and friendship around the world, a movement that later became known as “Up With People”. Although it has its roots in the United States, it is much better known overseas. I enjoyed A Song For The World so much that I had to ask for an interview, but who should I ask? This is very much a joint effort, and while Frank McGee is to be congratulated on his efforts, he was obviously aided and abetted by others. Throwing it carefully to the wind, I opened it up to everyone who could participate.

Hello everyone, I would like to start with a few questions for Frank. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Frank: I’m glad, Simon, and I’ll definitely stop for a while. I grew up in Oregon and got involved in crisis management work towards the end of World War II, partly through music and theater. He took me to other countries. I became a photojournalist in Brazil in the early 1960s. Then came writing, which became my career.

In the late sixties, I edited Pace magazine, a contemporary of Look and Life. In the 1970s, I started and edited New Worlds, Orange County, California’s leading magazine, and wrote a coffee table book for the University of California, Irvine, about the school’s first quarter century. I also published the official program of the Bushmills Grand Prix offshore powerboat race, which took place in Newport Beach. It was said that the program’s circulation of half a million copies is the largest in the history of sports. Let’s hear Irish whiskey!

Fortunately, I got married. My wife, Helen, an English major at Carleton College and the daughter of a literature professor, has been my creative partner from the beginning.

Where did you get the idea for the book?

Frank: In early 2003, we were at a gathering with old friends when a lawyer from Oakland was talking about the terrible things that young people in his city were facing. “I need a book about the Colwell Brothers and Herb Allen,” he said. Someone asked, “Who can write it?” I immediately knew this was a story for me. But then I didn’t really know the consequences of that.

I knew the Colwells and Allens had done something no one else had ever done. They were as much at home in the Japanese Diet as they were in the courtyard of African Chiefs or Carnegie Hall. But as the book project progressed, through interviews, reading hundreds of letters, and collecting memories from people who were touched by these remarkable artists around the world, I realized that this is not just an amazing story of something that happened, but also a fascinating glimpse into what remains to be done. . It turned out to be a real adventure story, perhaps adventurous enough even for grown-up Harry Potter readers.

Song For The World is very well written, is this your first foray into the literary world?

Frank: I think if you haven’t heard of me Simon, the obvious answer should be “Yes”. I have edited, written, and ghostwritten books and anthologies that have been translated into several languages. But A Song for the World is certainly the most important story I’ve ever had to tell, and the most rewarding for me as a writer. Interestingly, this is a story that no one knew, not even those who have followed these musicians for years.

I have a question that I would like to ask anyone. I love the photos, someone is a pack rat to get all of these. Who is? And how the heck did you manage to keep all these photos and memories while touring all the time?

Steve Colwell: Our Mother, bless his soul. We regularly sent home letters, photographs and some artefacts.

Frank: When we started the book project, we heard from people in Anchorage and Helsinki, Zurich and Oslo, London and Cape Town who dropped off the pictures and offered to share them. And yes, Mother Colwell’s treasure chest was the real disaster. That’s where I found the great photo that’s on the cover of the book. Since then, we have been searching for the photographer in vain.

You went on tour for a month and came back after 10 years! I’m sure that should be a record. He had a great future by staying in the United States, yet he decided to leave. Did you regret it?

Steve Colwell: The decision to go with the program was not without deep thought and some anguish. Who knows where our music careers or any other careers would have taken us if we had stayed at home. The entertainment industry is very competitive, even back then. We could have risen to the top of our field, or our young career could have ended in a flash. Anyway, as I said in the book, I don’t see how any amount of money or fame could be more fulfilling, exciting and challenging than the noble mission of using our music to create a better world. In my mind, this was the destiny we were born into, and I think we all knew it deep down.

Just a wild guess, how many people have you entertained over the years? I bet that’s a really big number. I did a straw poll of people I know, and I hate to say it, but your organization is relatively unknown to North Americans, yet well known to people from other countries. Does that bother you?

Steve Colwell: No, it doesn’t bother me as I’m very happy that other countries have reacted the way they have. Up with People has performed at four Super Bowl halftime shows, multiple network TV shows, prestigious venues like the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, and thousands of concerts across the United States, so you’re wondering why more Americans don’t know about it. I think the size of our country and the competition for the entertainment dollar play a part. Word spreads faster in smaller, homogeneous countries like Belgium and Japan.

John Ruffin, publisher, Many Roads Publishing: The name Up with People varies across North America, perhaps geographically, but I have to say that I’m more impressed than expected by the recent gatherings where people knew or remembered UWP. I’d bet that in any group of 20 people in the US between the ages of 35 and 60, at least 2 people know about UWP. I randomly checked this and found people either breaking into song (Up, up with the people, you meet them wherever you go…) or saying “I wish I traveled with them” or “my neighbor (or the neighbor’s kid “) ) traveled with them.” In the 60s and 70s and beyond, we took this show countless times to every state and major city in the United States, played at every major college or university (Harvard, Yale, Berkley, etc.), military bases and academies, we’ve done four national TV shows. and four Super Bowls, seven World’s Fairs. So while the Brothers and Herb aren’t household names, Up with People often run into each other.

If you had to pick a high point(s) of your career, what would it be?

Steve Colwell: There are many, but I always look back on our Italian tour in 1968 as special and enjoyable. All songs and spoken words were in Italian. We all speak Italian at some level. Herb is fluent. We wrote songs in honor of some big cities. The crowd hardly let us go with cries of “bis, bis, bis”. (more more more)

And of course I have to ask, what was the low point?

Steve Colwell: Between tours in the early 60s, with no contingency plan for the next challenge or project. Partly the burnout, the feeling of insecurity, that maybe we were running on our course, somehow we got stuck.

Today’s world is as volatile as yesterday’s, in many ways more so, what are “Up With People” doing today? Are you still touring? Are they still ambassadors of peace?

Steve Colwell: Yes, there are two touring casts of 80 each. With our country and the world so polarized and driven by fear and hatred, especially in the Middle East, understanding, individual responsibility and hope for a better world are needed now more than ever.

John Ruffin: I think so, without question. The times, as you say, are even more challenging and give more reason for “musical diplomacy” of deeper connection, understanding and alliance between all the peoples of the planet. We need to use a lot more heart, care, and intelligence (in the head type) in how we reach each other in the world, and UWP is once again at the forefront of that effort. Recently revamped to be more focused and agile in both educating participants and addressing world issues, the two new casts represent dozens of nations from every continent. The Colwells and Herbs began demonstrating the ‘power of music’ 50 years ago and really set the standard in many ways. Would the current “diplomacy” providers from this country adopt at least one chapter from this book (as well as the new UWP program) as a new perspective/guideline for truly effective outreach to the world before it’s too late?

Frank: Two Up with People are touring as we speak. But for me, the Up with People idea now belongs to the world. It is represented in varying degrees throughout the lives of 20,000 alumni who are now involved in education, media, public service, entertainment, government and business. It’s an idea that proves contagious.

I have two “big” thoughts about these four men and this book. The first is that their story convincingly demonstrates the power of music to bring about change. The four may not say it that way, and they never claimed it, but I think it’s true. The second “big” thought is that, at a time when this country is less loved, these artists, all Americans, have shown an interesting and repeatable way of connecting with the human family and the countries and cultures of the world. .

Just a fun question, which one of you is the best musician?

Steve Colwell: Without a doubt our “master”, Herb Allen. A virtuoso on the xylophone, he writes and arranges music, sometimes without an instrument, and has conducted several symphony orchestras for Up with People shows. It also has perfect pitch.

The three of us had only very basic, if any, formal training. We are self-taught. Paul is our best musician, flowing effortlessly between mandolin, banjo and guitar. Ralph is our lead singer. If organization, detail, and worry are considered talents, then I am the best. By the way, I’m the yodeler in the group.

Frank, I have never met a writer who stopped at one book. What are you working on now?

Frank: I thought you’d never ask! When the opportunity arose to write A Song for the World, I had just finished the first draft of a novel. It is based on things that really happened in a well-known Californian town: intrigue in high places, scandalous events and a love story that connects it.

After the upcoming book signing/concert tours with the Colwell Brothers and Herb across the country, it’s back to fiction for me. In this case, fiction is not much stranger than truth. Of course, I expect publishing house bidding wars.

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to talk to me. You have lived such a wild life, few people have met the leaders of the world as you have, few people have seen the strife these merry priests live. The Super Bowl 4 halftime show featured few upbeat singers.

Interview by Simon Barrett for bloggernewsnet

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