Mellencamp (center) with Paul Douglass (left), director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, and Robert Santelli (right), executive director of the Grammy Museum (Christina Olivas photo).
Media Contact: Pat Lopes Harris, SJSU Media Relations
Last night at the California Theatre in San Jose, rocker and Farm Aid activist John Mellencamp brought down the house at a benefit concert for the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies.
The singer/songwriter accepted the John Steinbeck Award presented by the Steinbeck Center to artists and activists whose work exemplifies the values found in the writings of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. For the first time since Joan Baez in 2003, a musician received the prestigious award, “in the souls of the people.”
Mellencamp discussed his career and creative process with Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, stopping several times during the talk to strum his guitar and sing. And then he brought the audience to its feet with a musical performance that included “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Crumblin’ Down” and “Cherry Bomb.”
“John’s 40-year career makes one marvel,” said Thomas Steinbeck, noted author and the surviving son of John Steinbeck. “As an artist, John Mellencamp has been a superb singer-songwriter-storyteller; as an exemplary activist, and as a creator and longtime champion of Farm Aid, he has maintained the true spirit of John Steinbeck’s compassion for the worker. Without question, John Mellencamp has earned the John Steinbeck Award, and it will be my great pleasure to present it to him.”
Giving Voice to the Common Man
Mellencamp said, “John Steinbeck’s remarkable ability to give voice to the common man and to people on society’s margins, to describe their plight and aspirations, continues to inspire us more than a century after his birth,” Mellencamp said. “I’m very honored to be the recipient of an award given in his name.”
Upon receiving the John Steinbeck Award, Mellencamp had his name further linked to that of the legendary Baez on a select list of two as the only recipients of both the Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie awards. Mellencamp received the Guthrie award in 2003.
Previous recipients of the John Steinbeck Award include: Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel, Dolores Huerta, John Sayles, Jackson Browne, Garrison Keillor, Joan Baez, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and Rachel Maddow.
About the Award
The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University is the world’s leading archive of Steinbeck materials, with over 30,000 items. The center has been authorized by the Steinbeck estate to present awards to those artists and activists whose work exemplifies the themes and values found in the writings of John Steinbeck: in particular, his concern for the natural environment, his commitment to the common people, and his willingness to critique the contrasts between the powerful and the poor.
Of John Mellencamp, Thomas Steinbeck also said: “My father always carried a deep and profound respect for songwriters and musicians. He felt they were the voice of the people and had the unique opportunity to reach the very souls of the people. Like Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, and a handful of others, John Mellencamp has done just that. He has spent his life serving as a voice for the people.
The John Steinbeck Award, “In the Souls of the People,” was first given in 1996. Nominations for the award are made by a committee of members of the board of the Center for Steinbeck Studies.