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My Nostalgia: The Music of Up with People | Steven Greenlee

The Nostalgic Music of Up With People | The Nostalgia Diaries Blog

From time to time, I remind our followers and friends on Facebook that we’re always looking for guest contributors for our Music Monday posts (email us if you’re interested), and I get so excited when people reach out and say they want to put together a playlist to be featured on the site. Why? Well, it means we have one less post we have to write!

Just kidding!

The truth behind why we love our guest contributors so much is that we love hearing and reading about what songs take other people back, because their memory-heavy music always has a way of making us feel nostalgic, too. This fun little phenomenon is one of the most amazing things about music, and nostalgia generally: it has an amazing way of bringing people together and connecting them through shared memories, feelings, and interests.

And speaking of bringing people together, this week’s Music Monday post—which is brought to us by a friend and co-worker, Steven Greenlee—is all about a group that has been bringing people together in a musical way for years: Up with People. Not only is the history behind the group fascinating, Steve’s personal experience in, and perspective on, Up with People is interesting, fun, and the perfect way to take a little Monday trip down music memory lane. Enjoy!


My Nostalgia: The Music of Up With People | Steven Greenlee

When I think of nostalgic music, so many different songs, decades, genres, and artists spring to mind. I remember first listening to music on the AM radio in my parents’ old station wagon, then on our FM stereo Hi-Fi console, then on vinyl on my own Technics turntable. Then on cassette tapes, and then on CD’s. All long before mp3s and iTunes and streaming music…

And as I think back, I think back to my college years… songs by George Michael, Hootie and the Blowfish, Indigo Girls, and 10,000 Maniacs come to mind.  Then I think back to the songs I listened to when I graduated high school… songs like Best of Both Worlds by Van Halen and Like a Rock by Bob Seger.  I think about being an angsty young teen in junior high, listening to Queen, Styx, Rush, Foreigner, and AC/DC… maybe even Olivia Newton John.  I remember being younger still, listening to K-Tel compilation albums featuring artists like Meat Loaf and Boston, and Donna Summer. I remember listening to the early stylings of Billy Joel and Steve Miller Band, ABBA, and Glen Campbell.

So much nostalgia from decades of music…

But one musical group continues to pull me in by its nostalgic forces, the one whose songs take me back to friends and places and faces more than any other—mostly because I spent a year on the road, traveling and singing and dancing with this international musical group.  The group?


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Maybe some of you know Up with People… Maybe you saw Up with People perform in your hometown (like Salma Hayek did when she was a kid—she told Parade Magazine in 2009: “[T]hey came to our city in Mexico when I was a kid doing motivational performances and singing songs about the power we have to change things. I had a dream of going away with them — just going from town to town and being in their show to help promote world peace. That was my real secret fantasy.”)

Maybe they came to your school.  Maybe you were a host family and had an Up with People cast member or two stay in your home. Maybe you saw them volunteering in your community.  Or maybe you only know them by their widely-recognized theme song:

Up, up with people
You meet ’em wherever you go!
Up, up with people
They’re the best kind of folks we know!

Or… maybe you’ve never heard of Up with People. If not, here’s a little primer:

Up with People began in the turbulent 60s as an alternative to the hippie youth culture, and their clean-cut looks and positive message had the makings of a motivational movement like no other:

Kinda corny, huh? But remember kids, it was the mid 1960s and frankly, it sounded pretty much like many other popular groups at the time, like, oh, for example, this groupAnd besides, corny was all around back then.

So from those early beginnings, Up with People became a positive, non-religious, (although many believed otherwise—one of its most popular songs throughout its history was “What Color is God’s Skin?“), non-political, musical force across the world.  Every year, hundreds of young men and women traveled across the globe, promoting peace and understanding among people of all nations. Throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, Up with People was a huge operation, performing in four Super Bowl Halftime shows, at two (U.S.) presidential inaugurations, and at six World Expos.

I traveled with Up with People in the late 1980s, and my experience was nothing like what some people have described as a sugary-sweet, smile-’till-it-hurts, “cult”-like group. While promoting peace and understanding through positive music and swing claps was still at Up with People’s core (and yes, my fellow cast members still had a tendency to smile… a lot), my Up with People experience in 1988-89 bore little resemblance to the early Up with People years that seem to still be made fun of in current culture (e.g., The Simpsons) and by sports writers who every year manufacture lists of the “worst Super Bowl halftimes.” (Somehow these writers glaze over the fact the Up with People halftime shows were great successes for their time… hmmm… maybe the reason why they performed in four Super Bowls… more than any other group or artist… but I digress).

My experience was all about the music, the show, the travel, the friends. I also think through it all, I, along with my other 100+ cast mates, positively impacted many, many people around the world. Why wouldn’t we smile about that?


And yes, since you are wondering, Up with People is alive and well after a brief hiatus in the early 2000’s, and it still positively impacts communities all over the globe. Today’s Up with People has shades of its 1960’s self of course—its mission is still to engage and inspire young people to make a positive difference in their world. But it is no longer what some people view as a corny conglomeration of perpetually perky people (and hasn’t been for a long time). Up with People today is global education at its finest.

Of course, Up with People music has continued to change in an effort to appeal to new generations of youth looking to make a positive difference in a cynical world. From the songs of the 60s to songs of the 2000s, the Up with People show and its music has continually evolved for the times and its audiences across the globe.

The newest Up with People music, written by some exceptionally talented songwriters, is modern and moving. Sure, it includes hints of the past, (e.g., they still sing the Up with People theme song—updated of course), but if you have been to a recent Up with People show, you know the music and energy and performances are thoroughly engaging, powerful, and—unless you are dead inside—positive and uplifting. 

Frankly, they have always been that way.

* * *

When I tell people that I traveled in Up with People, I generally get two reactions—1) “Oh cool!” (and then they start singing the theme song); or 2) “What is that?”

When I get the “what is that” question, I give my standard answer: It’s an international educational cultural performing group whose mission is to promote peace and understanding among people of all nations… (Honestly, don’t we need that now more than ever?)

And when I begin to tell people about Up with People, it makes me think back to my year traveling with some of the most amazing friends from all over the world—many of whom I get to see every 5 years at UWP Alumni reunions. Then all I have to do is watch an Up with People music video like this one below, showing recent scenes of Up with People cast members doing their thing—not unlike the scenes playing in my mind from my own year on the road—and I am in nostalgia overload:

And being in nostalgia overload is not a bad place to be.

So with that, here’s a playlist of some of my most favorite and nostalgic Up with People songs.  These are 30-second clips that will give you a taste of Up with People Music spanning the 50+ year history of Up with People. (And if you want to hear more, you can stream the full songs on Napster (previously Rhapsody), Spotify, and you can buy the music on iTunes.

As you may be able to tell, these songs are listed (sort of) from newest to oldest. And while they of course are not all from the show I performed in, each of them has a way of taking me back in time to that year on the road, living out of a suitcase, traveling to over 80 cities in 7 countries, making friends, seeing the world, and doing my best to positively impact a life or two in the process.

Not a bad way to spend a year.


Let us know: Does the music of Up with People take you back, too? If you could spend a year surrounded by one type of music, what kind would it be?

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Steve is a full-time attorney and a part-time writer who loves music and all things nostalgic. He proudly traveled the world with Up with People in 1988-1989, and later served on the Board of Governors of the Up with People International Alumni Association.

“Is that a fanny pack?  Why, yes that is a fanny pack. And those are acid-washed jeans… It was the late 80s. What do you expect?”

* * *

Thank you, Steve!


Want to submit your own song or playlist to be featured on a Music Monday post? Email us today! We can’t wait to hear your own nostalgia-inducing tunes.

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At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.

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19 thoughts on “My Nostalgia: The Music of Up with People | Steven Greenlee

  1. Wow, this just brought back so many memories! I totally remember Up With People and now I probably won’t get that song out of my head. I can’t believe they’re still around all these years later.

  2. I have heard of Up With People but I didn’t know anything about them! This was really interesting to read! I may think about a playlist to send you for a Monday post, that would be fun!

  3. Okay I feel kind of silly because I’ve never heard of Up With People, which is totally ridiculous because it’s a mission and organization I can 100% get behind. Thanks so much for sharing some of the backstory here…who knew more Super Bowl appearances than any other band in history–not me, whomp! Thanks for this 🙂

  4. I’m not familiar with Up With People, but will check them out. If I could be surrounded by music all the time, I might pick Latin music. It would help refresh Spanish for me, and it gets the blood circulating on days you need a bit of a push.

  5. This is awesome! I love reading other people’s stories and history with music. It’s incredibly inspiring.

  6. Such a great post! I didn’t know much about Up with People, but I’m definitely going to check them out now! One of my favorite summer groups – though not really fitting for the nostalgia diaries – is the Zack Brown Band 🙂

  7. I heard of Up With People. Is it bad that I thought it was Up With The People? A group promoting peace would be great in time with so much chaos.

  8. Thanks for the great memories! There are so many groups you mentioned that I haven’t heard in quite awhile. It’s going to be fun hearing them again!

  9. I am also an alum and former employee of Up With People (1987-1989) and will be at our 30 year cast reunion this month in Tucson. My two years “on the road” gave me a world perspective that shapes my views – still. I have friends that live in over 20 countries and am thankful for the true “world education” I received.

  10. I was in Cast A (1968-1969), and really appreciated your article. It brought back many wonderful memories!! Fun to hear the old songs and see the well-loved faces – thanks so much.

    I can personally attest that I never had any feeling of being in a cult or that I ‘had to’ think or feel any particular way. We were given great freedom of expression, although naturally we were expected to publicly behave in a way that ‘synced’ with the message of the show.

    We were also given incredible opportunities to develop as individuals – my 15 months with UWP have served me far better in life than my four years of university!! I even met my husband in UWP. SO much to be grateful for! Thanks again, Steve, for sharing your memories.

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