August 26,2009

Today Karyn and I feel the deep loss of a personal friend.  In our lives Ted Kennedy was more than the legislative lion of the Senate.  He was the proud sailor who introduced our sons to the spiritual element of sailing on his beloved wooden sailboat in Nantucket, the young senator I first met as a college intern in 1972 as he patiently found the time to lay out the fundamentals of universal health care to our summer class,  the proud step-dad who with Vicki beat Karyn and me to every afternoon high school baseball game while our sons played side by side, and the masterful legislative colleague who never sacrificed his liberal principles standing for the everyday person as we joined  each other on the health committee in writing and passing bills on health care disparities among the poor, emerging infectious diseases like HIV and avian flu, and preparing the nation and the world to fight bioterrorism.    His death is a loss not just for Massachusetts and the Senate, but for all of mankind.   

 --Senator William H. Frist, M.D.

From Big Kenny Interview: The First Trip -- Impressions of Akon, SUDAN 2007

Love Everybody has helped with the facilitation of the Konyok School for Girls in Akon, Sudan. The school currently has 550+ students enrolled. Love Everybody's goal is to instill hope, strength, and excellence to all students who attend so they can prosper in life. Their motto: "Highlight the good, inspire greatness, and encourage mutual responsibility for the betterment of humankind. -- Love Everybody." Member of the Tennessee Global Health Coalition.

August 26, 2009

So, two years ago; October of 2007, my wife and I and several friends from the organization My Sister's Keeper from Boston and Dr. David Marks and Walt Ratterman from Sun Energy Power decided we were going to get together and go into the country of Sudan. We went there and visited this village, which is basically a refugee camp right in southern Sudan, about 50 kilometers from the line of demarcation between there and Darfur. So this is an area that people had fled into that had been pushed off of their land. Like farmers. My dad's a farmer, and I guess that's why it hits with me.
Met this morning with the Minister of Health. The last time I was at the ministry we met just down the hall from the minister's office. That was in 2003, and SARS had struck just the month before. Allegedly the Chinese government has hidden the problem from its people and the world, but as the outbreak grew, the news exploded, and no longer could the government contain the news. I was openly critical that day in our public meeting, representing the U.S. and world opinion. Though my remarks had nothing directly to do with what was about to occur, the minister just hours later was summarily fired, a sign of recognition that China would officially change its secretive policy of minimizing the ongoing impact of SARS. And the epidemic rapidly spread throughout China, Asia, and Canada, paralyzing travel and tourism, killing hundreds, and greatly diminishing economic growth for the next year of Asia and Canada.
As much as I hate to say it, my time in South Africa has now come and gone. Calandra Miller and I safely arrived back on American soil at 7:30 AM on August 6, 2009. At the time, I could not say the same for our luggage, which remained (safely) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The last couple of weeks spent in South Africa were bittersweet, to say the least. I was looking forward to coming home and seeing my family and friends once again, but at the same time I was having to say goodbye to many good friends and, what I consider to be, family back in South Africa. The volunteer girls, Betty, Eva, and Engelinah treated us to some milkshakes as a going away present. This was a distinct honor to me, because what we might take for granted in the United States, they had to budget for weeks in advance. We also spent some time celebrating with Stefan and his family, the Wiids (the family who hosted me in their cottage during my stay in SA), and Pastor Dave Garton and his wife Gail (who run the rehab program that Project HOPE is partnering with). In the midst of our imminent departure, I took some time to reflect on what I was doing and had done since arriving in South Africa.
August 24, 2009

Today, after meeting all day with health reformers in China, it is clear that partnerships with U.S. academic institutions are important to build capacity and institutional support here.

At Peking University, Dr. Ke Yang, Executive Vice President of Peking University (PKU), enthusiastically described the great results of a Duke-Peking University two-week global health diploma program with the School of Public Health.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

9 pm, Beijing

In 2003, representing the U.S. Senate I met with President Hu Jintao, CMC Chairman Jiang Zemin, Premier Wen Jiabao, and the Foreign Minister and Health Minister. One evening there was a majestic dinner in our delegation's honor, similar to our State dinners, hosted by the NPC Chairman Wu Bangguo (who I understand is coming to DC in a couple of weeks). It was the height of the SARS crisis and China had been shut down. I remember so vividly the discussion we had in the Ambassador's residence in Japan (the country visited just prior to our planed trip to China) when I gathered all the Senators around to make a final decision of whether to enter China at a time of some risk. We decided to go ... to demonstrate our support of the Chinese government in those difficult times as it did its best to fight the new, frightening and deadly SARS virus.

I am reminded of all this as I enter China today and read the China Daily headlines in the airport, "H1N1 will endanger more lives," with a subtitle "Up to 2 Billion may be infected; China will see rise in cases this winter." The article goes on in the first few paragraphs to say that the number of H1N1 cases will double every three or four days until they reach the peak transmission period.

The world is a small place. SARS tore out of China and invaded Canada. The affected economies grounded to a halt. Similarly HINI will be a worldwide pandemic. There are no borders to these cagey and fatal viruses. We are all in this together and our response must be mutually dependent. We are one. There is no separation of global health from domestic health when it comes to these emerging diseases.

August 22, 2009

Frist Update and Expectations: Written on the plane to Shanghai

Just getting used to the new Prius. I am taking a lot of heat from my family who see me more the Tahoe or Suburban type. It was tough trading my 1992 Suburban (my only car) because of the family memories that centered on that car. I had saved some money back in ‘92 by getting a two wheel drive (though I regretted it later when in DC I kept getting stuck in the snow - sometimes doesn't pay to be too cheap); it was the car the boys learned to drive in the narrow streets of Georgetown (side mirrors a little scratched). I resisted this clunker deal initially because I thought it wrong that the taxpayer was buying my new car for me, but after a few days I broke down on the moral argument of mileage, pollution, etc (and the gift of the average taxpayer!!). I always buy my cars from Lee Beaman; his dad and mine were best friends. Christi, who works with me, picked out a great Yukon for me. But I opted for the Prius - why? Because it gets 4 times the gas mileage and I want to reduce gas consumption since so much of the proceeds goes to those who feed terrorism. And it is cheap - we actually ended buying two Pri(i) - one for me and one for my brother Tommy - for the price equal to one Yukon. Still hate to see the Suburban go - and it sounds like they poison it to kill it. Ugh.
August 22, 2009

This morning, we awoke early to catch a 5:00am flight out of Nashville, through Atlanta to Shanghai, China. Karyn, youngest son Bryan (21), brother Tommy, his wife Trish, and his son-in-law Chuck Elcan and I are all traveling to China to explore the Chinese delivery of health care. During my time in the Senate, at the height of the SARS crisis, I led a Senate delegation to China. They were honored we would come during this period, exhibiting the United States’ trust in the Chinese government to handle this unknown crisis.

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;,?

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