In 2007 Dr. Kathryn Benzel developed Prayers for the People in order to regenerate Carl Sandburg’s poetry, demonstrate the breadth of his writing, and recognize his iconic image as Poet of the People—and to bring it all to the public. The program is interdisciplinary, including Sandburg’s poetry and writing and songs from The American Songbag, Sandburg’s 1927 collection of traditional American folk tunes. The performance originated with three main founders: Mike Adams, singer-songwriter, arranges the music and coordinates the local musicians for each production; Dr. Kathryn Benzel, Professor Emeritus from University of Nebraska-Kearney, presents an introductory lecture on Sandburg to set the performance locale and atmosphere; Dr. Charles Peek, Professor Emeritus from University of Nebraska-Kearney, serves as emcee and reader and generally keeps the stage production moving.
Since 2007 we have presented over ten productions adapting each to the particular performance location (e.g., the great plains, Chicago, railway culture) and in each location writers and musicians are recruited to add their own talents to the performance.
- * The first performance in 2008 at the Merryman Performing Arts Center inKearney NE included Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate focused on prairie poems and traditional western songs. Nebraska Educational Television filmed a 2008 Nebraska performance and created an hour program that is continually aired on NET. A 2010 Heartland Emmy was awarded to the program for Special/Entertainment.
- * In 2011 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign performance included Kevin Stein, Illinois Poet Laureate, and focused on Chicago poems and blues songs.
- * Colorado College hosted a 2014 program featuring Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason and Sons and Brothers Trio.
See Paul Bonesteel’s PBS American Masters documentary, The Day Carl Sandburg Died.