Folk singer Scott McKenzie, whose hit 'San Francisco' soundtracked the flower power movement, dies aged 73


Scott McKenzie, the folk singer who provided a global anthem for the 60s “flower power” movement, has died aged 73.

McKenzie’s 1967 hit San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) soundtracked the “hippie” scene’s demands for free love and an end to the Vietnam war, and was adopted by freedom movements around the world.

The singer, who had been suffering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease which affects the nervous system, was found dead in his Los Angeles home by a neighbour on Saturday. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack last week.

Inspired by California’s Monterey Pop Festival, the North Carolina singer recorded his counterculture anthem wearing a garland of wildflowers while friends meditated on the studio floor.

The song, written by John Phillips of the Mamas & The Papas, promising a “love-in” for new arrivals to San Francisco’s burgeoning hippie scene, which spawned bands including The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, reached number 4 in the US Billboard charts.

But its sentiment proved even more popular in the UK, where it topped the chart. No marijuana-tinged “Summer of Love” gathering in Hyde Park was complete without an airing.

But the song was also adopted by protestors against totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe and was widely played during the 1968 Prague Spring uprising in Czechoslovakia.

McKenzie was invited to perform his song in East Germany after the fall of Communism in 1991. He was shocked to learn that citizens could once have been imprisoned by the Stasi for listening to the song.  “Many of these people adopted San Francisco as their personal anthem of hope and freedom. It is very humbling,” he said.

Although the song was a hit at the peak of the anti-Vietnam protests, McKenzie dedicated every American performance of the track to Vietnam veterans, and in 2002 sang at the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

McKenzie, born Philip Wallach Blondheim, never repeated the chart success of “San Francisco.” He claimed not to like his own voice and when fans set up a website in his honour he said: "I can't imagine anyone having the slightest interest in me."

However he understood the legacy of his music on a generation, and left a message on the website: “When San Francisco was first released in the spring of 1967 my country was in chaos. Already reeling from political assassinations, we were bitterly divided over the escalating war in Vietnam and haemorrhaging from acts of hatred and violence, many of which were in reaction to non-violent civil rights demonstrations and protests.

“Even when so many of us had lost hope, when the summer of love had turned into a winter of despair, our music helped keep us alive and carry us forward into a world we had hoped to change. And so it still does.”

Mackenzie Phillips, John Phillips’ daughter, named in tribute to her father’s close friend, tweeted: “For those of you who don't know him. Please google Scott Mckenzie. We have lost one of the best voices of our time. And a kind sweet man. He carried me home the day I was born.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas