Singing with Minnesota sunshine on his shoulders.
Before he achieved fame and fortune, John Denver performed at Edina High School gymnasium in 1969 (Edina High School yearbook photo).
Before he became famous for his songs about country roads and Colorado mountains, John Denver made his home in suburban Edina.
On his way to stardom, Denver lived in an Edina apartment 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 Star Tribune writer Jon Bream.
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 when she attended Gustavus Aldophus College. Then a virtual unknown and without financial backing from his record company, Denver toured small-town schools and colleges, American Legion Halls and local coffee houses to build support for his first album Rhymes & Reasons.
One of those impromptu tour stops was Edina High School during a student protest in 1969.
Denver’s performance wasn’t even mentioned in the Minneapolis Star’s coverage of the protest, in which 1,200 to 1,400 students walked out of their classes to voice their disapproval of proposed teacher cuts. Kris Carlander, a protest organizer, is credited with arranging to have Denver entertain students during their sit-in at the school gym.
“Few of us had heard of John Denver, but all knew [his song)] Leaving on a Jet Plane, ” recalled yearbook photographer Patrick Boulay. “That Saturday night, he appeared on WCCO TV’s This Must Be the Place, hosted by Bill Carlson. That’s when I realized he was kind of a big deal.”