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Biography

 

ROD McKUEN has been hailed by The Times of London as “Quite simply one of the most riveting performers of his generation” and Paris Match added, “This talented and electrifying chansonier has set a high standard for every international entertainer.” The singer-songwriter’s unique style and stage presence has filled concert halls, theatres and intimate nightclubs on nearly every continent.

The statistics involving McKuen’s career and work are staggering. He has recorded over two hundred albums and is the recipient of 63 gold and platinum records worldwide. His three-dozen books of poetry have been published in eleven languages, sold 65 million copies and made him the most widely read poet of his time. The songs he has written and composed have accounted for the sale of over 100 million records for such diverse artists as Madonna, Perry Como, Petula Clark, Waylon Jennings, The Boston Pops, Chet Baker, Pete Fountain, Andy Williams, The Kingston Trio, Percy Faith, The London Philharmonic, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Mathis, Al Hirt and Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra commissioned an entire album of original McKuen songs and the result was the highly successful and much acclaimed A MAN ALONE. It produced two hit singles for the singer.

The more than 1500 songs penned by McKuen include such standards as LOVE'S BEEN GOOD TO ME, JEAN, I THINK OF YOU, ROCK GENTLY, THE WORLD I USED TO KNOW, WITHOUT A WORRY IN THE WORLD, A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN, JOANNA and I'LL CATCH THE SUN. His nearly 17-year collaboration and partnership with Jacques Brel resulted in SEASONS IN THE SUN, IF YOU GO AWAY; I'M NOT AFRAID, THE PORT OF AMSTERDAM and two-dozen other songs.

Two years ago the French performing society named IF YOU GO AWAY the song of the millennium. In addition to Brel, McKuen has adapted translated or collaborated with many of the major French songwriters including Leo Fere, Barbara, Francis Lai, Gilbert Becaud, Andre Popp, Claude Bolling, Frank Thomas, André Popp, Frank Gerald, Michele Sardou, Eddy Marney, Pierre Delanoé, Georges Moustaki, Michael Fugain, Serge Lama, Christian Chevallier,

His film music has twice been nominated for Academy Awards (THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE & A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN). His classical works (symphonies, concertos, suites, chamber music and song cycles) are performed by leading orchestras and classical artists throughout the world. THE CITY, a suite for Narrator & Orchestra, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Music. He has received commissions for classical work from The Royal Philharmonic, The Louisville Orchestral, Edmonton Symphony and National Symphony among others. His LONESOME CITIES won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word album in 1968 against such formidable competition as “John F Kennedy: As We Remember Him” and the collected speeches of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.

One of his most notable musical partnerships occurred during the 1970's when he and Anita Kerr teamed as author & composer to do a series of albums that featured The San Sebastian Strings. McKuen's poetic words set to the lush music and orchestrations of Miss Kerr produced 15 best selling albums for Warner Bros. Records, including the company's all time best-seller, THE SEA.

While McKuen is responsible for both words and music for the major part of his songwriting oeuvre other notable collaborators include Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Enneo Moricone, John Williams, Hildegarde Knef, Petula Clark, Richard Loring, Jack Elliott and Jeri Southern

Rod McKuen was born in Oakland California at the tail end of the depression. At eleven, he left home to work at jobs that took him throughout the western United States as Rodman on a surveying unit, cowhand, lumberjack, ditch digger, railroad worker, and finally rodeo cowboy. His first attention as a poet came in the early fifties when he read with Kerouac and Ginsburg at San Francisco's Jazz Cellar.

He served 2 years as an infantryman in Korea and returned as a singer of folksongs and eventually his own material at San Francisco's Purple Onion. Before becoming a best-selling author and songwriter in the 1960's, McKuen had been a contract player at Universal studios and a vocalist with Lionel Hampton's band amassing a considerable following as a recording artist and nightclub performer.

At the height of his career McKuen began to suffer a long bout with Clinical Depression that lasted well into the 1980’s. He speaks openly about “this much misunderstood and too seldom diagnosed condition.” “I battled my way back to some kind of sanity by finally realizing I had absolutely nothing to be depressed about. “ He told an interviewer in 2001 “I’ve had and am having a great life and I’ve never been happier. Besides, who knows how much time I have left on this earth? I have too much to do and too many things started and unfinished to afford the luxury of being unhappy.”

McKuen's poetry is taught in schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries around the world. He is the recipient of both the Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman Awards for outstanding achievement in poetry. The late W. H. Auden remarked “Rod McKuen’s poems are love letters to the world and I am happy that many of them came to me and found me out.”

He is a recipient of the Brandeis University Literary Trust Prize for "continuing excellence and contributions to contemporary poetry." THE POWER BRIGHT & SHINING, a book in verse about America, won him the first Amendment and Freedoms Foundation Awards.

McKuen continues to perform concerts as a solo artist and with symphony orchestras. He has recently joined other artist friends for a series of All Star Benefits to help raise money to combat AIDS and fund children and senior citizen charities. McKuen stated recently “For every paid concert I try to balance it with a fund raiser because the older I get the more conscious I’ve become about giving something back.”

His endeavors on behalf on anti-discrimination won him a second medal from the Freedoms Foundation and he has twice been named Variety Clubs Man of the year. He was the first performer to insist on and receive permission for ‘mixed seating’ in his initial tour of South Africa. Once that long taboo was overcome it paved the way for Black artists such as Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald to tour Southern Africa under the same terms.

McKuen is past president of The National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and came out publicly in his 1977 best selling book FINDING MY FATHER about his own abuse at the hands of a sadistic stepfather. Born in a Salvation Army hospital and not knowing the identity of his father, FINDING MY FATHER, one of the poets few work of prose, begins with the line “Having been born a bastard gave me an advantage over all those people who spend their entire lives becoming one. It’s nice to have a head start.”

The success of FINDING MY FATHER in Great Britain helped Parliament enact laws that now give adopted children access to medical records of their natural parents. Of his work on behalf of Human Rights McKuen says “We ought to be celebrating our differences not our sameness. How can we claim the common fatherhood of God without acknowledging the brotherhood of man? We ought to be nicer to one another because we’re all we’ve got.”

In April of 1998 Rod turned his talent to the Internet and the result is a popular web site entitled "Rod McKuen / A Safe Place To Land" - www.mckuen.com. In addition to poetry, music, photographs and personal information the author contributes a daily column to the site under the heading "Flight Plan." In the past four years the Website has become one of the most visited personal sites on the Internet. It has in fact become so popular that a mirror site www.rodmckuen.com has been established to accommodate greater accessibility.

His newest book, not coincidentally titled after his Website, is A SAFE PLACE TO LAND. In addition to 160 pages of new poetry it contains two CD’ with the author reading selections from the work to a full musical score. For ten years running McKuen gave an annual birthday concert at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center and has already booked Carnegie Hall for a 2003 “30th Anniversary of the 40th Birthday Concert.

His latest album is a double CD The Platinum Collection. He is currently remastering all of his RCA and Warner Bros. recordings for release as CD Boxed sets.

As if all these activities weren’t enough to keep the singer-songwriter-producer-poet-activist busy enough, for the past 19 years he has been the president of the American Guild of Variety Artists, a post he has held longer than any other man or woman elected to the position.

McKuen lives in Southern California in a large rambling Spanish house built in 1928 with his brother Edward and four cats Rocky, Dinah, Kubby and Sunny. Throughout his life, McKuen has been an avid music and record collector and is considered by many to have one of the world's largest private record collections. "My one unfulfilled dream," he says, "is to build a barn to house my stuff". He also “collects and uses” old and antique martini shakers and glasses.


For further information contact rod@mckuen.com

 

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