|Founded||July 23, 1968 (53 years ago) |
|Type||Educational, cultural, civic, religious.|
|Legal status||501(c)(3) nonprofit organization|
|Headquarters||Denver, Colorado, U.S.|
|Vernon C. Grigg, III|
Up with People (UWP) is an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Originating in 1968 as an offshoot of the evangelical Protestant group Moral Re-armament and founded with the aim of opposing the 1960s counterculture and left-wing political movements, Up with People uses tuition-paying volunteers to stage song and dance performances promoting themes such as religion, racial equality, and positive thinking. Up with People has received sponsorship from oil companies Exxon-Mobil and Halliburton, far-right and evangelical Christian figures such as Patrick Frawley, Jr. and Republican Party politicians Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
Up with People originated as an offshoot of the evangelical Protestant group Moral Re-armament (MRA). J. Blanton Belk, then "heir apparent" to MRA leader Peter D. Howard, broke away from MRA under the advice of US President Dwight Eisenhower, who counseled Belk against continuing with MRA and its "dreary image." With Eisenhower's push, Belk founded a song-and-dance troupe that promoted religious faith and opposed then-salient countercultural and anti-establishment attitudes.
Up with People performed songs with titles like "To Tell the Truth" and "You Can't Live Crooked and Think Straight," as well as "The Star-spangled Banner". Up with People's performances reached a wide audience through their affiliation with large corporations, evangelical Protestantism, and Republican Party figures such as Richard Nixon. Up with People sought to extend its influence beyond white American evangelicals by decrying racism in the song "What Color is God's Skin?".
During the 1970s and 1980s, Up with People performed at sporting events like Indianapolis 500, the Cotton Bowl, and Super Bowls X, XIV, XVI, and XX. At this time "professional football was still trying to match the popularity of the college game," and brought in Up with People alongside acts like "university marching bands and high school drill teams." Up with People also performed at the White House.
Despite continued Super Bowl performances and friendliness with Republican politicians, Up with People's popularity began to wane. As the counterculture of the 1960s faded into historical memory, Up with People found itself outmoded. Ironically, the victory of Up with People's evangelical backers threw the group into irrelevance. With the political ascent of Ronald Reagan, American evangelicals ensconced themselves in positions of power and no longer felt the need to sponsor cultural pushback against radical ideas.
By the late 1980s, the NFL, which once provided Up with People with its largest audiences, sought to expand its cultural appeal beyond white, Christian Americans, and began incorporating "multicultural," and, eventually, popular music acts into the Super Bowl halftime show. Losing its "financial lifeblood," Up with People, which introduced tuition fees in 1972, increased its fees to $5,300 (equivalent to $15,441.29 in 2022) for a one year program in 1982. These fees drove would-be performers away from the group.
Up with People reorganized its programs in the 1990s. UWP introduced programs for academic credit in the 1990s, and launched a summer camp in 2011. By this point, Up with People's tuition fees "exceeded the cost of most private universities."
Music critics cite Up with People as a stylistic influence for R.E.M's tongue-in-cheek "Shiny Happy People" and the corresponding music video due to its over-the-top and colorful musical spectacle. The Simpsons parodied the group as "Hooray for Everything," a group of "clean-cut young go-getters," that performs ridiculous songs such as a cover of "Get Dancin" dedicated as a "salute to the Western hemisphere, the greatest hemisphere in the world." The creators of The Book of Mormon, a musical that satirizes the latter-day saint movement cited Up with People as an inspiration for the cartoonishly joyous style of several of the songs in their musical performance, which sends up the clean-cut image of Mormon culture.
Frank Gatson Jr. traveled with Up with People, and he is known for being the creative director for En Vogue, Brandy, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyoncé. He has also choreographed videos, routines and live performances for artists including Michael Jackson, TLC, Kelly Rowland, Fifth Harmony, Destiny's Child, Toni Braxton, and Usher.
NBC News correspondent Tom Costello of The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, and CNBC traveled with Up with People. He is quoted as saying "For me, the gap year was a big year of growing up, and I changed profoundly."
Dutch documentary film director, writer, and photographer Koen Suidgeest traveled in 1988. He is known for his films Karla's Arrival, Casting, Out & About, Solo, and Girl Connected as well as his book Why I Cry on Airplanes and his 2015 TED Talk.
Bermudian singer and actress Candace Furbert traveled in Up with People. She is known for performing in London's West End Theatre and her roles in Book of Mormon, Shrek, Dream Girls, Tina, and more.
Director Jon Lawrence Rivera (who has directed theater performances such as Carla, Moscow, All Soul's Day, Red Hat & Tales, and more) traveled with Up with People in 1981 to 16 states and 13 countries. He was quoted as saying "It was an amazing experience," and "It gave me the feeling that whatever you want to do, you can do."
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