There will never be someone quite like Kenny, combining a unique, abundant talent as a song writer and an unshakable passion for the living world.
Kenny Young was a truly gifted songwriter, musician and producer, who in the 1960s co-wrote a song, Under the Boardwalk, that became so famous and successful, he could have taken life easy and never worked again.
Instead, after a great music career, he turned his focus to environmental activism and he worked tirelessly to support indigenous rainforest communities in their fight for land rights; to help people the world over affected by climate change; to support cutting-edge environmental campaigners; and to help people affected by natural disasters.
He was motivated by an understanding that what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. He was a modest man. Until the end he walked a spiritual path, seemingly unafraid of death, with laughter in his heart.
Born in Jerusalem, his parents moved to New York City where he grew up. Aged 22, Kenny decided to try his luck as a song writer and was soon given space in the Brill Building on Broadway, at that time, the world’s foremost popular music hub.
There, in 1964, he co-wrote his Grammy Hall of Fame song, Under the Boardwalk, with Arthur Resnick, which has since been recorded by The Drifters, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones and by many other bands.
In 1968 he wrote Captain of Your Ship with Ben Yardley, first recorded by Reparata and the Delrons. In 1972, at the height of the Vietnam war, Kenny decided to make his home in the UK.
There he continued writing and producing chart-topping songs, including, Only You Can and S-S-S Single Bed with his band Fox, which reached No 3 in the UK Charts, and Just One More Night with his band Yellow Dog, which went to No 8 in the UK. In 1980 Kenny co-wrote Ai No Corrida with Chaz Jankel which became a chart-topping song for Quincy Jones.
From the late 80s onwards, Kenny took a major change of direction, now putting all his creative energies into producing albums to raise money for environmental causes with leading artists.
With colleagues Nick Glennie-Smith and Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, Kenny recorded the song Spirit of the Forest which was supported by a who-is-who of pop’s finest, including Chris Rea, Donna Summer, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Debbie Harry, Gilberto Gil, and members of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac.
That was Kenny’s genius: to work with ‘the great and the good’ of the music business and in so doing, to strengthen environmental initiatives.
With Vic and Nick, Kenny co-founded and ran the charity, Earth Love Fund, 1990 to 2005. ELF released two best-selling compilation albums, Earthrise 1 and 2, which funded some 300 environmental initiatives around the world, with particular emphasis on rainforest projects.
In 2006, Kenny launched a new charity, Artists Project Earth. For APE he produced five compilation albums with songs by the world’s most renowned artists, again to raise money for environment projects, and also for disaster relief.
The artists trusted Kenny to add new backing tracks to their songs, featuring Cuban and African musicians.
So far APE has supported some 400 projects in more than 30 countries in diverse fields such as climate justice, fracking and shale oil pollution, wildlife protection, agroforestry, seed saving projects, wetlands restoration, reef conservation and marine plastic pollution.
In Bristol in 2015 APE initiated the Bristol Whale sculptures in the heart of the city, surrounded by ‘waves’ made of waste plastic. The sculptures were a key feature of Bristol’s role as European Green Capital that year.
Kenny’s work has been recognised in many quarters. Most notably, he received a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievements.
Kenny’s final music project is an EP featuring a new version of Spirit of the Forest with a Cuban backing track, together with three other tracks. More about this on the APE website.
Kenny died on the same day of the year that he was born: 4 April. He brought much joy to the world, through his music and his laughter, and through his profound love of Mother Earth.
We feel a great sadness for his loss: we will never hear his rich Brooklyn accent cracking jokes again; we will never again sit together late at night, trying to imagine a different world into being.
There will never be anyone quite like Kenny again, who combined a great talent as a songwriter and record producer – and incredible connections within the music world – with an abiding passion for the natural world, and compassion for people in need.
Kenny is survived by his son Joel and partner Rhiannon, and their daughter Ava, and by his partner Ariadne. He will be greatly missed by a huge circle of friends and by music lovers and environmental campaigners all over the world.
Professor Herbert Girardet is an author, environment consultant and former filmmaker. He is a trustee of the Resurgence Trust, which owns and publishes The Ecologist. Lorna Howarth is editorial director of Panacea Books a trustee to the Arts Earth Project.