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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Rod McKuen passed away at
the age of 81 on January 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.