Up with People

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Up with People (UWP) is an American nonprofit organization that uses a five-month program involving travel, the performing arts, volunteering, and various workshops focusing on intercultural communication to teach young adults how to interact in a multi-cultural environment and create change in communities with varying needs.[2][3] The UWP current headquarters is in Denver, with satellite offices in Belgium and Mexico.

Up with People
Up with People Vertical Logo, Black Text, Gold Star.png
Up with People logo
FoundedJuly 23, 1968 (53 years ago) [1]
TypeEducational, cultural, civic
Legal status501(c)(3) nonprofit organization[1]
HeadquartersDenver, Colorado, United States[1]
Vernon C. Grigg, III



The UWP Archives is housed at the University of Arizona Special Collections library. The archives include materials from the Up with People organization, the International Alumni Association, as well as the personal papers of the UWP Founder and Chairman Emeritus J. Blanton Belk and his wife Elizabeth "Betty" Belk. Select materials from the UWP archives are accessible on the Up with People digital collection hosted on the University of Arizona Special Collections website.


UWP was born out of a split from Moral Rearmament. In 1965, J. Blanton Belk dedicated his energies to creating an organization for young adults that enabled them to interact with the world through positivity and music. He created Up with People (UWP) to bring people together for the common good regardless of ideology, political affiliation, ethnicity, race, or religious affiliation. Up with People was officially incorporated as a "501(c)(3)   nonprofit, apolitical, non-sectarian international educational organization[4]" in 1968 under the leadership of Belk.[5]


UWP traveled and performed their musical show across several countries. Notable events were performances at the Indianapolis 500,[6] the Cotton Bowl, the White House, Super Bowl X,[7] Belfast during the Troubles, and the People's Republic of China.[4]


UWP continued their musical tour, performing at Super Bowls XIV, XVI, and XX,[7] the Jerash Festival, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., and Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is also the first decade in which Up with People introduced a named show called Beat of the Future in 1985.[4]


UWP toured throughout the '90s, performing at events at the Washington Monument, Washington, DC; at the Freedom Festival in Philadelphia; the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development's Earth Summit; and the first Celebration of Peace event with Colin Powell in Denver, CO. This is also the decade UWP established formal partnerships with academic universities to begin offering academic credit through their program.[4]


UWP suspended touring operations temporarily at the end of 2000 until 2004, relaunching the program with a more academic focus and their current program aspects of travel, volunteer service, performing arts, and leadership development with the sub-brand Worldsmart Leadership Program. Two years after its relaunch, the sub-brand was removed, leaving the program branded solely as Up with People again. Notable touring appearances during the 2000s were the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the United Nations Culture of Peace Forum at the UN Headquarters, the 400th Anniversary of Bermuda, and the 119th Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.[4]


UWP continued their program with a more comprehensive focus on travel, performance, volunteering, and leadership development. Notable performances during the 2010s were performing for Queen Silvia of Sweden at the Mentor Foundation Gala, Washington, DC; the 122nd Tournament of Roses Parade; and the 100th Anniversary of Kiwanis International in Indianapolis, Indiana. Camp Up with People was also started during this decade in 2011.[4]


Up with People hired former board of director's member and Lawyer Vernon C. Grigg, III as the president and CEO after the retirement of the previous CEO Dale Penny. Up with People was forced to suspend its tour for Cast A2020 two months in due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, which still remains to date.

Super Bowl performancesEdit

In 1976, Up with People began to make frequent appearances at the Super Bowl; the group performed in five Super Bowl halftime shows between 1976 and 1986 (with Grambling State University Marching Band being the only other group having that many returns to the Super Bowl halftime show with its six appearances), and performed at the pre-game show of Super Bowl XXV in 1991. By the 1990s, the style of halftime performance they helped define during the 1970s and 1980s (which centered on themed, musical-style spectacles which aimed to "fill the field") were frequently lambasted by critics for being too dated and not in touch with modern popular culture, leading organizers to shift toward popular musicians for future halftime shows.[8]

UWP "On Tour" programEdit

The On Tour program is open to participants ages 17–29. Each group, after training in Denver, travels to nearly 20 communities across two or three continents, per semester, spending about one week in each community. Each week, they live with a local host family, participate in service projects, learn about various cultures through educational workshops, and perform in Up with People's musical stage production. Programs begin in January or July of each year. The program is broken into the 4 main aspects of travel, volunteer service, performing arts, and education/professional development.[9][2]


The UWP program typically covers 8-10 countries (beginning in the United States) on at least two continents over a 6-month semester with a second semester option. The program emphasizes cultural immersion, so participants live with host families during their stay. They tour the city and learn about points of interest in the city from a local guide as well as from their host families. The program also emphasizes that their program draws from a wide range of international participants, so individuals are learning about cultures from the organized travel portion as well as from fellow members.[10][11][9]


The UWP program provides participants with the opportunity to volunteer in each community. They coordinate with local community members ahead of arrival to find projects that are appropriate for the community, so the focus can cover a range of topics such as park/trail restoration, education, homelessness, disabilities, local beautification projects, and more. After the completion of the project, the staff runs workshops with the students to discuss why the project was chosen, and how to identify the needs of communities in the future.[11][12][10]

Performing artsEdit

UWP has always had a musical performance component integrated into their show that involves the cast singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments for the community they just traveled through at the end of each week. They state that participants do not need prior experience to be involved in the show.[11][10]

Leadership developmentEdit

UWP has a curriculum built around creating "global citizens" through a series of workshops, community projects, and internships. Each component is designed to teach students communication skills, cross-cultural competency, and skills sets that are applicable in future careers. The internships cover backstage technical skills, marketing, public relations, and sales. They are also partnered with universities and offer optional college academic credit for participants for an additional fee.[13][2]

Typical weekly structureEdit

Monday – Travel Day

The cast travels for three to eight hours to the next city. This time is used to create conversations among various cast members and give them an opportunity to reflect and learn. The cast meets their host families, and then they spend the afternoon together at their home and around the city.

Tuesday – Community Discovery Day

The cast and their local host families/contacts watch presentations from local speakers and visit sites of interest.  They also participate in educational workshops and discussions based on the UWP Curriculum.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – Community Action Days

The cast and community members volunteer together at schools, at community spaces/parks, and with local NGOs.

Saturday – Show Day

Cast members rehearse for the show they put on for the community, including stage set-up, lighting, sound, costumes, and the musical performance aspects of the show.

Sunday – Host Family Day

The Host Family Day gives students the opportunity to explore the city with their host family, learn customs, and create connections.[14]

Related and affiliated organizationsEdit

Up with People International Alumni AssociationEdit

Up with People has an alumni group/professional networking organization that goes by the name: the Up with People International Alumni Association (UWPIAA). It was formed in 1988 and is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The alumni body is composed of over 20,000 members from over 100 countries, and their vision is stated as: "Our vision is to inspire vibrant multi-generational and global alumni to be instrumental in perpetuating the mission and vision of UWP."[15] They host a reunion event for previous travelers once a year.

Camp Up with PeopleEdit

Camp Up with People is a 3-week-long sleep-away summer camp in Virginia for ages 13–17 years old. The curriculum has a similar structure to the Up with People touring program, focusing on the arts, leadership, and volunteer service. It also incorporates standard camp activities such as ropes courses. The main notable difference is that the camp occurs only in one U.S. location instead of traveling like the tour program.[16]

Up with People, Jr.Edit

Up with People, Jr. is a program of Up with People composed of week long summer day camps for ages 8–12 years old. The camps occur in multiple countries such as the United States, Canada, and Belgium. They focus on teaching arts and crafts, international culture, interpersonal skills, and leadership; ultimately ending in a short musical performance by the campers.[17]

Common BeatEdit

Common Beat is an organization started in Japan by Han Chuson. Chuson traveled as a student in Up with People, took the UWP show ‘A Common Beat’ to Japan, translated it, and performed it there. This grew into the current annual program which has had over 1500 participants since its inception. Common Beat also consistently provides scholarships to Japanese young adults so they may participate in the Up with People program.

Partner organizationsEdit

Kiwanis InternationalEdit

Up with People has a partnership with Kiwanis International (the parent organization of Key Club, Circle K, K-Kids, Builders Club, Aktion Club, and Kiwanis Junior), the international service club that encourages youth to get involved in volunteering and leadership opportunities. Kiwanis states that "Kiwanis clubs can engage with Up with People by coordinating service projects, hosting the cast in their homes and sponsoring performances as fundraisers."[18]


  • — (2018). Keep Hope Alive (Studio Recordings from Live on Tour) (CD).
  • — (2018). Live on Tour 2018 (CD).
  • — (2015). The Journey (CD).
  • — (2012). Voices (CD).
  • — (2010). A Song for the World (CD).
  • — (2008–2009). Up with People World Tour (CD).
  • — (1999). A Common Beat (CD).
  • — (1997). Roads (CD).
  • — (1994). The Festival (CD).
  • — (1992). World in Motion (CD).
  • — (1990). Rhythm of the World (CD).
  • — (1988). Face to Face (CD).
  • — (1986). Time for the Music (CD).
  • — (1984). Beat of the Future (CD).
  • — (1980). Encore (CD).
  • — (1980). Holiday Greetings (CD).
  • — (1978). People Are the Energy (CD).
  • — (1976). Push On Through (CD).
  • — (1974). The Show Album (CD).
  • — (1973). Livin' On (CD).
  • — (1972). The Further We Reach (CD).
  • — (1970). Let All the People In (CD).
  • — (1969). Up with People (CD).
  • — (1968). Frontiers of Tomorrow (CD).
  • — (1967). Up with People III (CD).
  • — (1966). Up with People in Hollywood (CD).
  • — (1965). Up with People: The Sing Out Musical (CD).[19]

References in cultureEdit

  • In Terry McMillan's bestselling novel Waiting to Exhale, Gloria's son Tarik, a high school student and saxophonist, decides to take a gap year and applies to Up with People. At the end of the novel, he is doing volunteer and fundraising work with senior citizens to help get a scholarship in the program.
  • The Simpsons parodies Up with People multiple times with their own version of the musical group Hooray for Everything. They're shown as maintaining a positive attitude and clean wholesome image, described as "those clean-cut young go-getters." Their music choices are mainly covers of classic hit tunes, albeit cleaned up and wholesome. They performed "Walk on the Wild Side" in a Duff Gardens theme park commercial[20][21][22] and promoted a performance of "Get Dancin'" as a salute to the Western Hemisphere.[23][24][25] They are seen in episodes "Bart vs. Thanksgiving" and "Selma's Choice".[26][27]
  • On the television series Dinosaurs, the group was parodied as Up with Reptiles.
  • The creators of The Book of Mormon and multiple critics have cited Up with People as an inspiration for the style of several of the songs in their musical performance.[28][29][30]
  • Music critics cite Up with People as a stylistic influence for the R.E.M. song "Shiny Happy People" and the corresponding music video due to its over-the-top and colorful musical spectacle.[31][32][33]
  • An unofficial documentary film about the organization premiered at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival, titled Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up with People Story.[34] The film was directed by Lee Storey. The film documents the troupe's origins in the late 1950s within Moral Re-Armament and Sing Out! groups, funding by corporate entities, including Halliburton, General Motors, Exxon, and Searle, and an early goal of countering the hippie subculture.

Notable alumniEdit

Glenn Close, the Emmy- and Tony-award winning and Oscar-nominated actress, was a member of Up with People from 1965 to 1969.[35]

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.[36][37]

Anya Adams is an Up with People alumna and is known for her role as director and assistant director for TV shows Black-ish, The Mindy Project, Community, CSI Miami, and Body of Proof.[38][39][40]

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."[41]

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.[42][43][44][45]

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.[46]

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera (directing 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."[47][48]


  1. ^ a b c d "Registration Statement For Colorado Charitable Organizations". Colorado Secretary of State. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Up with People: UWP Global Education Program". Verge Magazine. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  3. ^ "Our Impact". Up with People. 2019-07-26. Retrieved 2019-07-26.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Historical Timeline". Up with People. 2019-07-26. Retrieved 2019-07-26.
  5. ^ "Up with People". Colorado Gives. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  6. ^ "Retro Indy: Indy 500 National Anthem performers". www.indystar.com. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  7. ^ a b Salaky, Kristin (2019-02-02). "The Super Bowl halftime show performance the year you were born". Business Insider. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  8. ^ Williams, Doug. "When Up With People dominated halftime". ESPN.com. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  9. ^ a b Bernstein, Hali (2019-02-13). "Group aims to spread hope through song". Boulder City Review. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  10. ^ a b c "Up With People Performance in Sacramento". FOX 40. 2019-03-21. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  11. ^ a b c "Up with People Program". Up with People. 2019-07-26. Retrieved 2019-07-26.
  12. ^ Segundo, Jordan (2019-03-19). "Doing Good: Up With People Volunteering". GoodDay CW 31. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  13. ^ "Up with People Curriculum Overview". Up with People. 2019-07-26. Retrieved 2019-07-26.
  14. ^ "Up with People : combining performing arts & community service in a unique learning abroad experience". International School Parent. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  15. ^ "UWPIAA". UWPIAA. 2019-07-26. Retrieved 2019-07-26.
  16. ^ "Camp Up with People". Camp Up with People. 2020-06-03. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  17. ^ "Up with People, Jr". Up with People, Jr. 2020-06-03. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  18. ^ "Our Partners". Kiwanis. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  19. ^ "Up with People - Albums". Apple Music. 2019-08-01. Retrieved 2019-08-01.
  20. ^ "The Simpsons s04e13 Episode Script". Springfield! Springfield!. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  21. ^ "04x13 - Selma's Choice". Forever Dreaming Transcripts. 1998-06-19. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  22. ^ "[9F11] Selma's Choice". The Simpsons Archive. 1996-05-28. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  23. ^ "The Simpsons s02e07 Episode Script". Springfield! Springfield!. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  24. ^ "02x07 - Bart vs. Thanksgiving". Forever Dreaming Transcripts. 1998-05-26. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  25. ^ "Bart vs. Thanksgiving". The Simpsons Archive. 1994-09-10. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  26. ^ Degli-Esposti, Cristina (1998). Postmodernism in the Cinema. New York, United States: Berghahn Books. p. 68. ISBN 1-57181-105-2.
  27. ^ Greene, Nick (2015-06-09). "17 Simpsons Cultural References Explained for Younger Viewers". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  28. ^ Pressley, Nelson (2013-07-05). "'Book of Mormon' creators discuss the musical". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  29. ^ Evans, Everett (2013-09-05). "The many graces of 'Book of Mormon'". Chron. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  30. ^ Gross, Terry (2011-05-09). "'Book Of Mormon' Creators On Their Broadway Smash". NPR. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  31. ^ "In Defense of… R.E.M.'s 'Shiny Happy People'". Diffuser. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  32. ^ "In 1991, R.E.M. (and guest vocalist Kate Pierson of the B-52's) scored a top 10 hit with the buoyant "Shiny Happy People". Billboard. 2002-08-31. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  33. ^ Warren, Robert (2014-08-21). "The 50 dorkiest songs you secretly love". Salon. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  34. ^ Storey, Lee. Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up with People Story. Storey Vision Productions, 2009.
  35. ^ Kaplan, James (September 12, 1994). "Close to the Bone". New York. pp. 40, 44. Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  36. ^ "Frank Gatson, Jr. | Creative Director | Visual Artist Developer | Choreographer". Dance Mogul. 2019-03-21. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  37. ^ Katsolometes, John (2013-10-17). "With Frank Gatson Jr. onboard, 'Jubilee!' gets a long-awaited makeover". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  38. ^ "Lemonade Mafia". Athena Film Festival. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  39. ^ "Filmography". IMDb. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  40. ^ Adams, Anya. "Anya Adams's Bio". Seconds Acts. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  41. ^ Chuck, Elizabeth (2016-03-25). "NBC News' Tom Costello: Taking A 'Gap Year' Before College Changed My Life". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  42. ^ Suidgeest, Koen. "UWPIAA Article". Koen Suidgeest. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  43. ^ "Biography". Why I Cry On Airplanes. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  44. ^ "Where Are They Now? Interview with Koen Suidgeest". Up with People. 2019-06-26. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  45. ^ "Who is Saving Whom? | Koen Suidgeest | TEDxBerkleeValencia". YouTube. 2015-05-27. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  46. ^ Davis, Gina (2019-01-09). "Candace Furbert's 'Memoirs Of The Entertainer'". Bernews. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  47. ^ Manus, Willard (2001-01-29). "Jon Lawrence Rivera Loves L.A. Playwrights—and L.A. Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  48. ^ Kaan, Gil (2019-04-25). "BWW Interview: Prolific Director Jon Lawrence Rivera Leads ANNA Into THE TROPICS". Broadway World. Retrieved 2019-08-06.

External linksEdit