John Denver Was Deeply Hurt When He Was Rejected From Recording the ‘We Are the World’ Benefit Anthem

John Denver was one of the highest-selling artists of the 1970s, creating hit country songs and starring in many TV specials. He also had a long history of political activism and humanitarian work. However, the musician was rejected from contributing to the hit charity single “We Are The World,” leaving him deeply hurt. 

John Denver performing onstage
John Denver | Paul Natkin/Getty Images

John Denver’s charity work, from environmental issues to AIDS research

Denver also had a long history of activism. The singer was outspoken in his support of organizations for the environmental movement, the homeless, world hunger, and those living with AIDS.

Denver also spoke out against the use of nuclear power, raised money for the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf, and served on the National Space Society’s board of governors. 

With an impressive history of political and humanitarian work like this, many were surprised that Denver didn’t make the cut when it came time to choose artists to sing on “We Are The World.” The charity single was a benefit anthem, raising money to help fight hunger and AIDS in Africa. 

Why was John Denver rejected from ‘We Are The World?’

Many artists were eager to participate in the project, including Denver, who already had a history of raising money for both world hunger and AIDS research. The singer-songwriter asked if he could sing on the track but was ultimately turned down.

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According to producer Ken Kragen, he had to reject many musicians, including Denver.  “John Denver was the hardest one [to turn down,]” Kragen remembered.

“Several people felt his image would hurt the credibility of the recording as a pop/rock anthem. I didn’t agree.”

Harry Chapin

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times at the time of the song’s release, Kragen reiterated how hard it was to say no to Denver: “How do you turn down well-meaning artists? How do you turn down John Denver? He’s been involved in fighting world hunger for years.” 

The snub deeply hurt Denver’s feelings. He even wrote about it in his 1995 autobiography, “Take Me Home,” saying, “It broke my heart not to be included.” 

Some notable names that didn’t get turned away included Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, and Bob Dylan. “We Are The World” went on to sell over 20 million copies, raising $10.8 million. 

John Denver’s success in the music industry

Denver started playing guitar when he was 11 years old, and he decided to pursue a career in music in the early ’60s. After leaving a trio group called Denver, Boise, and Johnson, the singer decided to try out a solo career. 

He released a couple of albums with RCA but didn’t break through until 1971, with Poems, Prayers & Promises. The album contained “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which went No. 2 on the Billboard charts. 

From there, Denver’s career took off. He released hits like “Annie’s Song,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Leaving, On A Jet Plane,” and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.” Denver also filmed a number of popular TV specials, as well as a variety show, The John Denver Show

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