Big & Rich Find Way Back Together

Kenny Alphin cites work with HTHH

Aug 21 2009

Big & Rich find way back together

Offstage, duo ‘like night and day,’ but their partnership remains strong

For the AJC

9:03 p.m. Thursday, August 20, 2009


Throughout the history of country music, duet acts have proved to be a mainstay in the ever-widening scope of the genre.

In family acts such as the Louvin Brothers and the Judds, intergender pairings including Sugarland, and George Jones and Tammy Wynette, or partnerships like Flatt and Scruggs or Montgomery Gentry, the symbiosis often produces something bigger than the sum of the parts.

In 2004, a pair of Nashville singer-songwriters joined forces in a manner that retained the traditional "duet" mentality, yet pushed the boundaries of country music. Big Kenny Alphin and John Rich, calling themselves Big & Rich, took the music world by storm with their eclectic conglomeration of rock, country, hip-hop and humor.

Alphin, an eighth-generation farm boy from Virginia, is as country as the day is long, but with a very obvious "hippie mentality" that shines through in his conversation. He speaks as enthusiastically about supply delivery trips to refugees in Darfur as he does the 50 new songs he has recorded in his home studio.

In a recent telephone interview, Alphin reflected on the history of Big & Rich, his solo music and the big issues that matter the most to him.

"The MuzikMafia grew out of a 70-week run where a bunch of friends who were all struggling in the music business here in Nashville would get together one night a week to share our songs and just do what we wanted to. Rappers, dancers, horns, whatever. It was 'music without prejudice,' and people just started showing up."

A regular attendee was the daughter of Warner Bros. Records' Paul Worley, and she convinced her father to give them a listen.

"John and I thought we were just going to pitch songs, so we played a few things for Paul," Alphin recalled. "He stopped us and said, 'OK, I want this.' He signed us on the spot as a duet act, and that's what got Big & Rich started."

The loosely organized MuzikMafia and its members, including Big & Rich, "Redneck Woman" Gretchen Wilson and "hick-hop" rapper Cowboy Troy, rapidly climbed into the country radio playlists and charts.

The duet's breakthrough single was met with mixed response from radio listeners.

"When we got some feedback on 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,' the radio people said it had a lot of 'polarity,' " Alphin said.

"Fifty percent liked it, and 50 percent hated it, and they said that is a good thing," he said. "It is not really a rap song, it is spoken word. We were trying to do something along the lines of the old country songs where the singer would talk instead of sing. The rap part is the added rhythm, which adds flavor to the rhyme. Rap is here, and this was our way to embrace it. We were having fun."

The success of the single propelled Big & Rich to concert headline status fairly quickly, and with Wilson, Cowboy Troy and their close friend Two Foot Fred along for fun, the duo seemed unstoppable.

The ride took a slow nosedive as the "fad" aspect wore off, and professional and personal issues became more prominent. Following an initial surge, sales eventually slowed, some hangers-on were dropped from the labels, and unfortunate offstage events began to get more press than the music.

Big & Rich recently took a one-year break during which both artists recorded solo albums. They are regrouping and touring. The question is, has the damaging negative publicity and absence from the public eye killed the spark?

The contemporary country music business is fickle, and it seemed that Big & Rich may have been a flash in the pan.

"That doesn't concern me at all," Alphin said. "The Big & Rich brand is established, and I feel stronger and more confident than ever. In Nashville, there are so many parts that make up the process, including publicists, promotion, and the artist pays for it all. It's very stressful, and the artist is ultimately responsible for their own career. I'm destined to make music, and I like to do multiple things."

While Alphin recovered from neck surgery, he channeled his energy into solo projects and numerous charity and social causes. The fruits of his labor are on the way, with a new single already out, and a full country album with more to follow.

His charity work includes Hope Through Healing Hands, which helps get doctors into underserved areas.

He organizes the successful "Nashville4Africa" fund-raising concert, supports disabled veterans' groups such as Building Lives and arranges for cargo planes to take supplies to Darfur.

"When I found out how bad it was there, it was more than I could handle," he said. "So far, we have delivered survival kits to refugees, helped build a school for girls called My Sister's Keeper, a clinic and an airstrip."

Rich has often found himself on the receiving end of bad publicity.

An active participant in the Nashville music industry since his days as a member of Lonestar, Rich is a talented songwriter with a strong producer's ear for what works in a song, resulting in numerous hits for other artists. He has hosted and participated in several CMT reality shows.

Outside of music, he is very open and public with regard to his conservative political beliefs and support of Republican candidates. His song "Raisin' McCain" was heard during John McCain's failed 2008 presidential bid.

Politics aside, Rich has a tendency to get into conflicts that often end up in the gossip columns. He was involved in a neighborhood dispute when he bought some prime Nashville real estate and started construction on a giant house that irked the neighbors.

A recent feud with former "Nashville Star" contestant Jared Ashley lingers. (Rich was not available for an interview for this article.)

While distancing himself from his musical partner's recent tribulations, Alphin acknowledges the differences and the connection to Rich.

"He's out there doing crazy stuff, but I still love him," Alphin said. "We are like night and day. He's political, and I just like to get things done. Right now, we meet onstage, that's it. Once he gets his other stuff straight, we will sit down and write some songs."


Concert preview

Kicks 101.5 FM Country Jam 2 with Big & Rich, Craig Morgan, Love & Theft? and Bombshel

7 p.m. Sunday. $19-$49. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 404-733-5010;,?

Reform the right should embrace

For the U.S. to save more lives, build self-sufficiency abroad

By Mark Green | Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remarkably, a reform effort is under way in Washington that has yet to devolve into a partisan shouting match. The reform involves our foreign-aid apparatus, which is in dire need of an overhaul. It matters because amid this tough economy, every taxpayer dollar is especially precious and because of the great good foreign aid can do.

The legislation that authorizes our overseas development programs is more than 45 years old, without updates or improvements in more than 20 years. At a time when our national-security and foreign-policy priorities have become increasingly dependent on effective development, our political leaders must act swiftly and put partisan politics aside in order to enact reforms that will make our foreign-aid programs more efficient, more effective and therefore more capable of supporting and advancing our national interests around the globe.

Despite some initial positive steps by the Obama administration and Congress, a critical constituency is missing from the discussion: congressional conservatives. As a proud fiscal hawk and a true believer in the power of U.S. foreign assistance to lift lives and enhance alliances, I urge conservatives to get more engaged and embrace the opportunity this debate presents.

I served in Congress from 1999 to 2007, when an unprecedented bipartisan coalition came together and increased U.S. foreign assistance aimed at easing the suffering of people in developing countries. Without the participation and leadership of conservatives in Congress and the George W. Bush administration, none of this would have been possible.

The vital role played by conservatives was perhaps best exemplified by the transformation of the late Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, who went from being Congress' most strident anti-foreign-aid voice to a co-sponsor of a bill providing $200 million to help fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Mr. Helms and other conservatives, including President Bush and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, were key players in passing landmark programs such as African debt relief, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the President's Malaria Initiative and the Millennium Challenge Act (which created the Millennium Challenge Corp.).

Without these initiatives, millions of lives would have been lost, the conditions of despair that terrorists and dictators all too effectively exploit would have deepened, and fewer developing countries would be on paths toward self-sufficiency.

Despite this important progress, U.S. foreign assistance is not as effective and supportive of our diplomacy and security efforts as it should be. Right now, foreign-assistance programs are overseen by more than 60 government offices that frequently are competitive and uncoordinated. Foreign-aid budgeting has become a mess of earmarks because the Cold War-era Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA) is decades out of date.

I saw firsthand how inefficient this system can be at times when I was U.S. ambassador to Tanzania in 2007-08. Early on, I would attend ribbon-cuttings for U.S.-funded health clinics and other programs only to see banners with countless logos and acronyms from organizations -- including different U.S. government agencies -- all taking credit for the American people's generosity. The maze of obscure names not only was unsightly, but it also confused our Tanzanian audience and diminished the diplomatic value of our work.

After sitting through a few of these events, I issued a directive creating a unified logo -- an American flag with the phrase "From the American People" in Kiswahilii -- and requiring that it be on every press statement and event banner.

Thankfully, we see some progress. The Foreign Relations committees in both the House and Senate have introduced reform bills that have gained some Republican support, but there is still a long way to go. The same leadership from conservatives that helped deliver millions of people in the developing world from poverty and disease over the last decade is needed to keep the foreign-aid reform effort focused on increasing accountability, eliminating waste and maximizing results.

I call upon my conservative former colleagues in Congress to rise to this challenge and join the debate. I urge the Democratic majority to run the reform process in an open and bipartisan way and keep it from becoming a debate over money and divisive social issues.

Given that foreign-assistance reform is fundamentally about making the United States better at saving lives, helping more countries like Tanzania get on the road to true self-sufficiency and highlighting our leadership and compassion abroad, we have to get it right -- and we have to do it quickly.

Mark Green is a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin and ambassador to Tanzania. He is the director of the Malaria No More Policy Center.

Overcoming Obstacles to Keep Girls in School: Sustainable, Environmental, and Economic Practices

by Anita Henderlight

August 18, 2009

Shortly after NESEI opened our first girls' boarding secondary school in South Sudan, we observed that many of the girls skipped classes routinely each month. Why? Because they did not have necessary supplies for comfort or cleanliness during menstruation. Most were using leaves or old rags to absorb their flow.

We began to supply the students with "comfort kits" - disposable sanitary products imported from more industrialized countries. They met our primary goal - keeping our girls in school.

We soon realized that we would eventually spend more on comfort kits than tuition fees and that we were creating a disposal and environmental problem in a community that had no functioning way to deal with garbage. We needed a financially and culturally appropriate solution - one that would keep girls self-assured and in class.

Thus, the NESEI sanitary pad sewing project was born. A generous group of people from York, South Carolina, invested $250 in a treadle sewing machine and donated patterns, fabric, thread, and needles. Our students begin making their own sanitary pads.

The locally-made pads are absorbent, soft and inexpensive to make. And because they are reusable, they are environmentally and community friendly.

In the first two months of the sewing project, the students made 500 pads. School attendance and personal hygiene have improved. And now the girls are coming up with a plan for a small business packaging and selling surplus pads to girls and women in the surrounding villages.

NESEI hopes to build capacity so we can help the girls market pads to other NGOs working in South Sudan. The girls will use the extra income to purchase additional scholastic materials and other needed items.

The sanitary pad program is another NESEI example of empowerment at work - a small investment is giving our girls the opportunity to find practical solutions to real problems.

In September, NESEI will launch a new, updated website ( with information about the sanitary pad project and other programs which are contributing to the improved health and welfare of our young Sudanese friends.

**NESEI is a proud partner of the HTHH Global Health Coalition.



Glenn Quarles, Global Health Scholar

Munsieville, South Africa

August 17, 2009

Loni and I have continued our work on the Munsieville Survey and rapid needs assessment data collection. We can now officially say that our Munsieville Survey is fine-tuned and ready for implementation. Each survey takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I mentioned in an earlier update that Project HOPE had planned to get 1000 surveys. Well, thanks to some mathematical wizardry on my and Loni's part, we discovered that we would only need about 400 surveys to get the same statistical power (something that SIGNIFICANTLY cut on costs for this project). So, with 10 hired surveyors it would take a little less than 2 weeks to complete data collection.

Unfortunately, due to government holidays and political unrest, we will not be able to implement the survey before leaving South Africa. However, we have drawn up a strategy for implementation to help things go more smoothly for our boss, Stefan, when he finds the time and resources to carry it out in the next month or so.

As Loni mentioned in an earlier update, we have been continuing Project HOPE's ongoing quest to find a suitable location for its Munsieville Model by conducting rapid needs assessments in the informal settlements of the Randfontein area. Most recently, we have been shack counting and surveying in Big Elandsvlei (this is in addition to Master, Jabulane, Elandsvlei Klein or "small", and Zenzele). They call it "Big" Elandsvlei because it has more land than the other Elandsvlei settlement, though this in itself is misleading. We counted a total of 210 homes there, whereas at Elandsvlei Klein there were 350 densely packed onto a smaller plot of land. Elandsvlei was a bit different from the other settlements in that it had no formal system of sanitation, not even latrines. Nearly everyone used a bush toilet (i.e., dug a hole in the woods). One of the women we surveyed informed us that rape is a big problem when using the bush toilet in that settlement, something I'd never even considered before.

Due to the aforementioned political issues, there have been many strikes occurring throughout the entire country of South Africa, including both municipality workers and even physicians. The municipality worker strike has had a grave impact on the people living in informal settlements who have to rely on the water tanks to survive. Already residents in Big Elandsvlei were reporting to us that they'd been without a water tank refill for the past three days. Besides a dwindling supply of drinking water, this has had other impacts on the residents, specifically the children. They have not been going to school because there was not enough water to bathe or wash clothes. The parents are consequently refusing to send their children to school because of it.

In spite of the municipality strikes and the resultant disruption in services, we haven't had any issues with our rapid needs assessments. Big Elandsvlei is the last settlement Loni and I were tasked with surveying. Naturally, being interns, we were given the sacred responsibility of doing data entry for all of the surveys we have collected. We are nearly finished with inputting data for the 185 caregivers and 266 children in the above 5 mentioned settlements. Once finished, we'll hopefully have a preliminary analysis completed for Project HOPE before leaving for the States.


Senator Frist said "I fast to send a message to fellow leaders, fasters and activists that we must definitively address the cause of the ongoing violence and persecution in Darfur. It is an affront to our compassion, our decency and our very humanity that the government of Sudan has put racism, political and financial interests ahead of its people. I want the refugees in Darfur to know they are not forgotten and that we will not give up until we see peace come to our Sudanese brothers, sisters and children."

Dr.Frist published an op-ed in the Boston Globe titled "Global Healthcare Takes More Than A Pill."  In the op-ed, Dr. Frist talks about the work of the Millenium Challenge Corporation. He writes "The US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation takes an innovative approach to strengthening the policy environment for global health. From the outset, the corporation evaluates a country’s immunization rates, total public expenditure on health, and commitment to combating corruption to determine where to invest its development grants. This smart approach ensures that US dollars are spent wisely in countries already taking steps to do their part to strengthen the health of their citizens."

Read the complete op-ed here.

From Tanzania: Update from Krista Ford

August 10, 2009

           I haven't had the chance to go on anymore exciting field visits yet, but I have become more familiar with how NGOs work. My supervisor has been out of the country for the last two weeks and consequently I've been given a lot more responsibility. For example, I lead this month's meeting of the Quality Improvement Task Force. The Q.I. Task Force meets monthly to discuss issues pertaining to the quality and guidelines of the care and support of orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in Tanzania. My supervisor is a co-chair on the task force and she usually hosts the meeting but I led the meeting in her absence.  The task force is in the process of developing national guidelines for quality improvement of OVC care as well as a household status tool to be used in assessing the household conditions of OVC. The discussion about the process of creating and revising the documents gave me insight into how national guidelines for development work are established and the relationship between governmental ministries and non-governmental organizations.

            I was also invited to the Implementing Partners Group meeting in my supervisor's absence. This monthly meeting is a chance for NGOs and CBOs operating in Tanzania to come together and share best practices and lessons learned. At the meeting we discussed everything from a recent trip to Egypt to share promising practices to progress made on incorporating children with disabilities into mainstream education. I had assumed, since most NGOs target specific issues and populations, that they work independently but the IPG meeting revealed the interconnectedness of Tanzania's NGO community. So many of the NGOs/CBOs rely on each other as partners in implementation that they seem more like a network than a group of independent organizations.

            My next field visit is currently scheduled for September. I will be heading to Iringa (one of Tanzania's colder regions) to visit beneficiaries and implementing partners. My co-workers have been warning me that I will need to purchase a heavy jacket! I'm enjoying getting to know my co-workers here in the office and partners at other organizations but I am looking forward to traveling to other parts of Tanzania and witnessing the impact of OVC programming in the field.

Senator Frist's first trip in Medical Missions was with Dr. Dick Furman and World Medical Missions, an affililate of Samaritan's Purse.

Samaritan's Purse has been doing good work in Sudan for some time. I thought it appropriate to highlight their work, in support of their continued efforts, here as we focus on Sudan this month.

Sudan: Samaritan's Purse

During decades of vicious civil war, more than 2 million people lost their lives and thousands of communities were destroyed. Samaritan's Purse has been helping the people of Sudan since 1997, by providing food, shelter, clean water, agriculture assistance, education, medical aid, and vocational training programs. In Darfur, we have fed 220,000 people who were forced from their homes by government-backed militias. In 2005, we launched a major church reconstruction project for Christians in South Sudan who suffered violent persecution.

For more CLICK HERE.

Franklin Graham called for a Day of Prayer for Sudan, August 1. He has requested prayers for the following:

• Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, President of Sudan

• Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of Southern Sudan

• A peaceful election in January

• The vote on independence for Southern Sudan in 2011

• Revival and prayer in local churches

• Lasting peace throughout Sudan

We welcome your comments.

Secretary Clinton's Africa Trip

Aug 4, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Africa trip, August 3 to 14, features a tough and demanding agenda: she will be visiting dangerously conflicted Kenya, Congo, and Nigeria; holding a brief exchange with a Somali transition government close to succumbing to a radical Islamist movement affiliated with al Qaeda; reassuring unsteady postwar Liberia; and opening a dialogue with a newly formed government in South Africa, which confronts worsening internal economic strains and remains visibly befuddled by the continuing crisis in neighboring Zimbabwe. The secretary’s agenda bears little resemblance to President Bill Clinton’s spring 1998 Africa renaissance tour or the similarly optimistic tones of President George W. Bush’s summer 2003 and spring 2008 trips.

For full article-- CLICK HERE.

Senator Frist has a forthcoming book that will release October 5: A Heart to Serve: A Passion to Bring Health, Hope, and Healing

In Chapter one, A Mission of Mercy, Frist shares his experience of flying into Lui, Sudan, under the radar, to perform surgery in a conflict zone. This experience was a foundational one which shaped his understanding and philosophy of health diplomacy and how offering health care can be a currency for peace around the world.



Don't forget to order your copy of the book on!



Subscribe to our newsletter to recieve the latest updates.