Globally a Newly Aware Generation Responds to the Challenge of  Leadership 

Globally a Newly Aware Generation Responds to the Challenge of  Leadership 

By J. Blanton Belk

 The 1960s were a most turbulent time for youth in the US and around the world. It was a young world where a third of  the population of the US was under 19 years old and the same was true of the USSR. The Baby boomers born after the Second World War had gone boom! Through television they were more aware of global affairs than any generation before. They were transported via television to the war raging in the jungles of Vietnam. This generation had lived through the tragic assassination of President John F.  Kennedy.   The boomers were full of ideas for their future and the future of the world. Some were against the war in Vietnam and at the same time full of passion for the struggle of civil rights.  It was the first time they were interested in what was going on and  youth were taking a stand and becoming involved in the civil rights movement and the conflict in Vietnam. The only policy in the US seemed to be, “how quickly can we shut them up?” I thought if we could harness some of that energy and give them a positive voice it might capture their attention and touch the world.

     I thought how could this new interest be channeled? A plan emerged to rally other concerned students. A group of students led by John Sayre, a University of Washington alumnus and Rusty Wailes, a Yale graduate  who between them won three Olympic Gold medals. became a force to rally others. They spoke at more than 60 colleges and universities. As a result, eight student leaders came to Tucson, Arizona to meet with a group of us in April 1965. Those present were Jim Bell from Clemson University, Don Reed from Oregon State University, Ellis Fisher from Duke University, Roger Buchholtz from Western Michigan University, Ed Livermore Jr. from the University of Oklahoma, John Seeley from the University of Colorado, Steve Roberts from the University of Wyoming, and Dave Neely from Southwestern State College. They came together to decide how to mobilize this energy. Out of our discussions it was decided to have a conference called “Modernizing America.” The world knew what young people were against but not what they were for–this conference would set the stage for this. 

     We had found that military people were very interested in the program that the young people were being given at the 1965 “Conference on Modernizing America.” The year before, Director of Selective Service Lieutenant General Lewis B. Hershey spoke at the “Conference for Tomorrow’s America” at Mackinac. We can only surmise that these individuals had spoken to Major General Curtis LeMay and his wife about what we were doing with young people. LeMay had recently retired as the 5th Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. In order to get their own assessment of the Mackinac conference, Major General LeMay’s delegation requested that they not be publicly introduced. They involved themselves in everything from early morning calisthenics to the musical entertainment in the evening. They were constantly talking to the conference delegates.

     At the end of the week, Major General LeMay asked to have a private word with me. I thought to myself the general is obviously the spokesman for this delegation. I was nervous and tried to prepare myself. The general began by saying how impressed he and the delegation had been with all they had seen and experienced. He told me that what he wanted to emphasize had come out of years of experience in dealing with young people. He said, “All of us have been impressed with the character and commitment of the young people and your staff. I have thought long and hard about how this program can succeed and I have come to this conclusion. I think this is only going to work if you as the leader have no skeletons in your closet. If you do, the press will eventually track you down and destroy the program. Secondly, that you have a staff around you who will take corrections, sometimes with heat and never back down. If you have that, I think this experiment will work and touch the world! We stand by to help!”

     During the ensuing years those comments and convictions of Major General LeMay lived with me–they were engraved in my memory! Our staff were the envy of the nonprofit world. Their commitment carried Up with People to the far corners of the earth!

     Soon after Sing-Out ‘65 went on the road, the US Air Force Academy invited us to perform in Colorado Springs. We can only surmise that our new friend, Major General Curtis LeMay had encouraged this. The initial show in November 1965 was a resounding success with the cadets yelling and stamping their feet calling for more. This reaction resonated with other military academies that trained future officers for the army, air force, navy, coast guard and merchant marine. Invitations came from the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York and the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.  The response of all these academies was so intense that it even led to a competition that year about which academy gave the longest ovation. I’m most happy to report that Annapolis ended number one. At the end of that performance, 4500 midshipmen and distinguished guests stood for 41 minutes applauding. 

     Therefore between 1965 to 1971, similar invitations poured in from schools, colleges and military installations. Over that period Up with People was invited, performed and interfaced with 953 schools and colleges in North America and 114 military installations in the United States, Japan, Korea, Canada, Germany, Spain, Panama, Norway, Netherlands and Belgium. To our knowledge, seldom has another nonprofit had such an opportunity. Without a doubt our students came out of this experience with a new respect for the training of the military and the military came out with a new respect for high school and college age students on a positive mission. 

     The San DiegoTribune put their finger on it when they wrote in the January 14, 1967 editorial after the cast of 280 students performed for 15,000 during an action-packed week, “Up with People, the musical Sing-Out program geared to the young and young in heart…. proved to be one means by which the human spirit can be elevated and imbued with desperately needed hope.… Singing by itself won’t, of course, re-shape the world. But it can strike some of the sparks that will. This is precisely what these young people in their boundless enthusiasm seem to be doing. …The aim is not uniformity but unity of purpose.”

     We were most fortunate to have two granddaughters of Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. On June 16, 1944, he assumed command of the Third Fleet, and was also designated Commander, Western Pacific Task Forces during the Second World War. Two of his granddaughters traveled with the early casts of Up with People in 1966 and 1967.  It was an honor to stand with one of them in the midst of thousands of white wooden crosses in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu Hawaii, called the “Punch Bowl.” The cast had gone completely silent and the only sound was the whistling of the wind as it shrieked around the crosses. Jane Halsey, speaking on behalf of her cast, moved all of us by her passion and ended with, “My grandfather felt strongly the privileges and demands that go with freedom. As his granddaughter and a young American I feel I have a responsibility and obligation to live up to that freedom which he and men like him fought to give us.”

     During Up with People’s fourth visit to Washington, DC in October 1966 and show at the Statler Hilton Hotel cast member Jean Morris, daughter of Major General Frederick Morris, speaking for the four girls in the cast who were daughters of generals and admirals, said, “We have always wanted to know how to serve our country in the way our fathers do. With Sing-Out for the first time we feel we can participate in what our fathers are giving their lives for and back them up in their fight for freedom.”    

     First, it seems only proper that the last word about the military and Up with People should go to the former President of the United States and General of the Army Dwight D Eisenhower. He had become a close friend and followed with great interest the development of Up with People. His voice came booming over the phone to me, and he immediately came to the point, “I’ve been thinking about your program, and I have some thoughts for you. I want you to incorporate Up with People making it totally independent, apolitical, and nonsectarian, and available for the youth of the world. Then he said, now, remember, with your young people, you are talking about the essence of freedom, which is self-responsibility and service to others. It is a precious substance, freedom, so treat it as such.”


United States Army Infantry Center, Certificate of Achievement, To the highly motivated and dedicated young men and women who comprise the troupe of “Sing-Out ‘66” for the brilliant light of mutual understanding and revelation they are singing into the hearts and minds of people throughout the nation. Their sincere and enthusiastic representation of Young America on the Move is refreshing and inspiring and comes at a time when all of us sorely need faith and confidence in our fellow man and, most of all, in the youth of our country. We salute you as comrades in arms in our mutual battle for universal peace, personal liberty and inward strength. Signed, Robert H. York, Major General, USA, Commanding General, Fort Benning, Georgia. 

Lieutenant General Thomas S. Moorman, USAF, Superintendent, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, wrote in an October 6, 1966 letter: I wish to extend my personal thanks along with the gratitude of the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Wing for bringing “Up with People” to the Air Force Academy. The performances here were extremely well received. There is no doubt that the message you are bringing to the youth of America is timely and significant. 

Three hundred uniformed cadets from the College Militaire Royale, one of Canada’s great military academies, were in the audience of 2,000 which attended the showing of Up with People at Canadian Forces Base at St. Jean in Quebec. … At the conclusion of the performance the entire audience led by the cadets rose to their feet in a standing ovation and remained standing while the cast sang a special song for the Canadian Forces.. (Tomorrow’s American News, October 17, 1966, 3.)

West Point rocked last weekend not only to the fight songs and pep rallies of the “Beat Navy!” theme but to more excitement still–the sight of 4,400 future commanders of the Armed Forces leaping to their feet to salute the Up with People spirit.  (Tomorrow’s American News, November 28, 1966, 1.)

In the introduction to Morris Martin’s book Born to Live in the Future, Dr. Frederick Starr,  ​​the founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute wrote, “In many regards, the late twentieth century has been a grim era marked by frightening global problems and forms of suffering unknown even to our grandparents. In the face of this, Up with People has the audacity to be joyful. For all its earnestness of purpose and moral depth, Up with People is sheer fun. And that, too, may place it on the cutting edge.”

For more information please see J. Blanton Belk: It’s an unfinished world and it’s still in the making. Pediment Publishing, 2020.


Goslar, West Germany

Goslar, West Germany

By Renee Ertl


Goslar, West Germany, November 19, 1989

It was a Sunday. The tiny town of Goslar, West Germany, was buzzing. Cars lined the streets, people crowded the sidewalks, and every store had its doors wide open.

In West Germany, stores are not open for business on Sundays. On a Sunday, you usually walk along the cobblestone streets of a small town, peering into the dark store windows, wondering if anyone really lives or works in the seemingly deserted pace. So what in the world was happening on this particular Sunday? Goslar, West Germany was stretching out its warm, friendly, and giving arms to its brothers and sisters from the East. 

The borders had only been open for a few days. And of course, being the international group, “Up With People,” we went to Goslar to experience this Sunday, November 19, 1989, that would be unlike any other.

We left the southern part of Denmark early in the morning, before sunrise. The plan for our day was to arrive in Goslar, a small town about twenty miles from an open border crossing, do an informal show outside in the marketplace, and then have some time to live, feel, see, hear, and breathe the atmosphere of this Sunday.

As we got closer to Goslar, I sat up in my bus seat and watched for DDR (Deutsch Democratic Republic) cars on the highway. They were easy to spot. They were like tiny boxes, a bit old fashioned, and thin. They went half the speed of all the other cars on the road too. Each time I spotted a car, I watched it intently until we passed it. I couldn’t help but stare at the people inside. I felt such excitement, and happiness for every person in each car. And how I wondered what their thoughts and feelings were. I would have loved to be a passenger, sitting alongside of them.

As we arrived in Goslar, we parked our buses on the edge of town. We all couldn’t wait to get to the center to be a part of it all. When we were finally given the go-ahead, we walked at a quick pace. The excitement was building. As we got closer to the marketplace, we started passing all of these DDR cars parked along the side streets. We were like little kids. We touched them, looked inside, and took our pictures standing next to them.

There were many people strolling the cobblestone streets and in the open marketplace. This was unusual for a Sunday. It was so easy to pick out the East Germans. They looked different. I can’t say exactly what it was? Maybe their hair, clothes, shoes, or maybe the glow on their faces or awe in their eyes? Maybe it was a little bit of everything?

I so enjoyed watching the families or couples look with amazement in the stores at the merchandise. They were like children at Disneyland. As I went from store to store, I tried to put myself in their shoes – experiencing this western life for the first time. I began to realize the wealth of choice we are accustomed to. The variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, in everything from kitchen pots and pans, to watches, turtlenecks, and cereal boxes.

I saw one lady try on a pair of jeans while her daughter felt every fuzzy sweater sitting on the shelves. I’m sure she didn’t have the money to buy the jeans, but that probably didn’t faze her one bit. The thrill of being in the West and trying on the fashions for a few seconds, was probably all she needed.

We all assembled in the marketplace for quick instructions for the informal show. Our director had to be hoisted on some shoulders so that we could see and hear him over the rumble of the crowd. On one end of the big cobblestone marketplace was a small stage that would hold maybe thirty of us. But that was okay, the other one hundred of us could be out performing in the crowd. Our music started playing and we ran on and in front of the stage from wherever we were in the marketplace. We didn’t wear costumes, we just performed as we were, all bundled up against the bitter cold.

Immediately an audience started to gather. In no time there were probably five hundred people standing in front of us. To me, this was the ultimate Up With People experience. I can’t even count the number of times that chills curled up my spine, or how many times I had to grit my teeth to hold back the tears. The words that I had sung so many times throughout the year, now became so much more meaningful and intense.

“Too many weapons,
too many walls,
the problem is mine,
the problem is yours.
Everybody, everywhere, beginning to see,
it’s a family matter and we’re all in it together!”

The crowd was dancing and clapping along to this up-beat tune. I’m sure many of them couldn’t understand a word that we were saying, but they could feel the meaning through our eyes and faces.

Seeing their joy was just an incredible feeling. Feeling it, would make it a thousand times more.

Our last song, “The Heart’s Still Beating,” was the most powerful, and the most touching. The tears streamed down our faces, and the faces of almost every person in front of us. We all stood there, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, hand in hand, swaying back and forth to the slow moving beat of the music.

“…And there are those moments,
when we can forget who we think we are,
with our stripes and our ammers,
suns, crescents, and stars.
We can’t find a barrier anywhere.
We can’t find the enemy we thought was there.
For a moment we can trust, for a moment, it’s only us.
The Heart’s Still Beating,
and the fires still burning.
We may be feeling,
that the wind is turning.
And the pain is healing,
though the memory may be long,
The Heart’s Still Beating… strong.”

Even now as I write, I can vividly see those faces. The joy. The hope. I have to hold back my tears again.

This Sunday was unlike any other. It was a part of history, and a part of my life. The impressions and feelings of this Sunday will be with me forever, and with my brothers and sisters from the East.

©1990, Renee Ertl



Spain and How Did We Get There!

Spain and How Did We Get There!

By J. Blanton Belk

 “Mr. Belk, how did Up with People ever get to Spain?” The answer was always people, people opened the door.  There was a Canadian friend, and a former British naval commander living in Mexico, our Up with People attorney in Tucson and lastly a Spanish Jesuit priest. My Canadian friend was Bob Fleming who was the publisher of Pace magazine and whose father had a home on Gibraltar south of Spain. Bob was a superb  photographer and he had been chronicling Up with People. He boldly took his camera and went to Madrid where he miraculously charmed his way into a meeting with Manuel Fraga Iribarne, the Minister of Information and Tourism. He was  thrilled with Bob’s photographs and he said, “I’ve been looking for a way to link the youth of our country with the rest of the world and this seems to be a good way to achieve that!” There was Tony Blomfield, a former British PT boat squadron commander who introduced me to Rodolfo “Rudi” Bay. Our attorney,  Anthony Terry who had a distant cousin in Andalusia and finally, Father Jóse de Sobrino who was assigned to the Vatican.

In June 1966, Betty and I were excited when an invitation arrived from Minister Fraga Iribarne inviting us to accompany Sing-Out ‘66 to Spain, so that “the government, public, and especially the youth will have a chance to view your program personally.” At that moment, Paul Colwell was on a train bringing the cast from Vienna to Madrid. He remembered: “Now with this invitation to Spain, we were wrestling with how to say Up with People in Spanish. My brothers Steve, Ralph and I were huddled around a table on the train with Ramona Abella and David Sierra from Cuba. We were deep in discussion on the subject and throwing ideas around. Suddenly Ramona said, ‘How about Viva la Gente?’ Our response was immediate and simultaneous, ‘That’s it!’ She had found the gem and we were ready for Spain. In the ensuing decades, Viva la Gente became a household phrase throughout the Spanish-speaking world.” One of the first shows of Viva la Gente in Spanish for 35,000 people took place at Valle Hermosa Stadium; in the audience was the president of Spain’s Olympic Committee and the Director General of Information. Sing-Out ‘66/Up with People also performed at the final banquet of the Spanish Theater Festival attended by Minister Manuel Frage Iribarne and the elite of Madrid society. The show was broadcast on national radio and TV. It was a packed two days of activity.

       This visit to Spain was a success because later an official invitation came from the government of Spain in 1969 inviting Vive la Gente to tour the country.  Before the opening of the Festivales de Espana in Madrid they performed in 9 cities including in Valencia. There the cast performed for 18,500 people who gave them the famed white handkerchief salute. Then, at the end of June, the cast opened the Festivales de Espana in Madrid. The editorial from Madrid, a leading afternoon newspaper said, “Some spectators were crying on Saturday when the 200 young people of Up with People appeared on the stage mounted in the Sports Palace. From every side there sprang up boys and girls who, at full speed, formed into a chorus singing a song of optimism and faith in man, in human beings. With the slogan, “Up with People” they were asking with great simplicity for “ the world as it is meant to be. The fact that there were young people of both sexes and from every race gave greater force to their contagious charm, the broad smile which they gave to the audience…. It is understandable that a great many of the people in the auditorium should be moved. In the face of the disheartening news which we hear every day of continuing international clashes, of partial wars which are killing men day after day, these young people bring to the world an encouraging message of goodwill. They don’t limit themselves to singing platonic hymns of peace and love, but they call for a great crusade to build the future. They speak of hard effort, constant work, a long job. And they volunteer their services to this common cause for humanity…. The song which won the most applause was “What Color is God’s Skin?” a magnificent song of human brotherhood, enhanced by the presence, side by side, of black, white and yellow. In one of their songs they say, “You must not allow men to hate each other.” And they say it in a very realistic way. There is nothing trite about it. There is none of the pacifist force like the refined propaganda which hammers at our ears. In this event of the Festivals of Spain 1969 there is something more than folklore, something, more than music and songs: there is youth, hearts, cleanness, hope….”

In November 1972 to my total surprise when I deplaned in Madrid, there was Father de Sobrino with his friend Minister Fraga Iribarne to welcome us. He was bubbling with news. He said, “When I heard from my friend Fraga that he had invited you to Spain, I immediately sent word to the palace asking that Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofía receive you and the cast. I have had word that we are to be received tomorrow morning at 9:00 am in the Zarzuela Palace here in Madrid. Please ask the cast to wear their national costumes so the prince and his guests can identify all the countries represented.” I was there the next morning along with Father de Sobrino, whom I had met in Italy in 1968, to welcome the cast as they poured off the buses. They were excited when Prince Juan Carlos, Princess Sofía and his sister, Princess Margarita arrived.

During the cast performance the prince and princess were totally focused on the young people and applauded loudly after each song. The final song was ¿De qué color es la piel de Dios? The silence was deafening during the song followed by loud applause. I stepped forward and said to Prince Juan Carlos, “Would you like another song?” Father de Sobrino shouted, “No, no, no the prince does not have time for that.” There was dead silence. Then the prince said with a twinkle in his eye, “Father, don’t you want to hear another song?” Father de Sobrino immediately said, “Yes, yes, yes if you have time.”  So the cast sang “¡Que Viva España!” This elicited loud cheers from everyone. Afterward, Prince Juan Carlos, Princess Sofía, Princess Margarita and their guests spent time speaking to many of the cast and thanking them for their contribution to Spanish youth. When the cast left, the prince motioned to Father de Sobrino for the two of us to stay for a moment.  He said how impressed he had been and he wanted to be kept informed. When the prince said goodbye to me he said, “I’m sure we’ll meet again.” 

Then in December of that year, Father de Sobrino connected us with his cousin Fernando de Terry in the southern state of Andalucia. He was the owner of one of the largest sherry bodegas in Andalusia and also a well-known breeder of Andalusian horses. This courtesy led to a lifelong friendship with the de Terry family.

The royal family continued to support us whenever possible. During the International Year of the Child in 1979, Father de Sobrino and I had a private audience with His Majesty King Juan Carlos. He welcomed us and gave Father a big embrace. He was full of questions, especially about Up with People. 

Later that year a cast arrived in Spain for a tour which covered 47 cities in 14 provinces. Her Majesty Queen Sofía was the principal sponsor of our performances in several cities for the benefit of people with disabilities.      

Another key player in the early development of Mallorca and Spain was Rudi Bay. He owned one of the largest charter airlines in Europe called Spantax and helped fly our cast all over Europe. He did this free of charge when there was space available! A most valuable contribution and we are grateful for his generosity! 

We had many tributes to what the cast did in Spain but one stands out.  The phone rang in our home in Tucson and a very friendly voice said, “Mr. Belk, we’ve never met but I’m an officer representing the US Fish and Wildlife Service in southern Arizona. We have a very large parcel that has arrived for you from Spain and you have to come immediately and in person to receive it. I was completely mystified but soon found out we had been given a lion cub by the Lions Club of Mallorca who had sponsored several Up with People’s tours in Mallorca. It was a very thoughtful gift and we hastily searched the country for a zoo that could take care of it! Bruce Erley found a home for her at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska and she was named Adelion. We have a lovely picture of Bruce walking the lion cub down the street on a leash.

Many newspapers wrote feature stories and editorials about Up with People. Ultima Hora, the largest newspaper in Mallorca said, “Up with People is one of the very few musical shows of today in which the audience leaves the theater truly satisfied, pleased and renewed. We all know that the crisis in moral, intellectual, religious, and family values has invaded the western civilization…we should applaud the aims of Up with People in a world that seems to look with pleasure to their own destruction…but, beyond that, the Up with People show is based on the most authentic giving of themselves…for once, young people are not manipulated by commercial interest. Another fascinating element of Up with People is that it interests all kinds of audience, whatever their age, nationality, or their cultural background. Without any reservations, we wish Up with People a long life for many many years. Up with People!”  Looking back, the facts are exciting. During these many visits, the host families of the cast members and the public moved all of us. Up with People definitely moved the hearts of Spain. 

To the best of my knowledge approximately 16 million (15, 578, 000) people saw a live performance during Up with People’s 13 tours of Spain. Approximately 100 million viewers were reached by television or radio beginning in 1966.  Over 65 different sponsors supported us over the years; many multiple times. Up with People was officially sponsored by the Festivales de Espana twice. From 1966-1992, Up with People performed in 220 Spanish cities and towns and stayed in over 13, 500 host families. 

A big thank you to those who played a vital part in getting Up with People to Spain: Bob Fleming, Fr. de Sobrino, Rudi Bay, and  the Fernando de Terry family from Andalusia and, of course, all of the many casts of Up with People.