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Country Joe McDonald Pays Tribute to Florence Nightingale in Berkeley


Country Joe McDonald, the lead singer and co-founder of the 1960s rock group Country Joe & the Fish, presented the world premiere of his musical tribute to Florence Nightingale March 6 at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.

McDonald, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, became interested in Florence Nightingale in 1981 when he met Lynda Van Devanter, whom he says was the first Vietnam War nurse to “come out” and speak for women in the military. The encounter inspired him to learn everything he could about Nightingale, which has included reading her biography and visiting her home at Embley Park; her grave site at East Wellow; her summer home, Lea Hurst; the Selimiye Barracks hospital in Turkey, where she drastically reduced the mortality rate of soldiers during the Crimean War by improving sanitary conditions; and Kaiserwerth in Germany, where she attended nursing school.

The 50-minute presentation included several original songs, interspersed with tales of Nightingale’s overwhelming contribution to nursing. Especially riveting was the story of how she walked four miles of beds spaced 18 inches apart during the Crimean War. Each evening, as she carried her lamp, the soldiers kissed her shadow as she passed.

Several nurses were in the audience, including Country Joe’s wife, Kathy McDonald, RN, a labor and delivery nurse at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center.

After watching the show, Karen Hipkins, RN, NP, MPH, said, “How fortunate we are that Country Joe is using his well-known storytelling and musical talents to advocate for nurses.”

And Cathy Berman, RN, NP, MFT intern, wrote in an e-mail, “Country Joe expanded the historical picture of this brave and courageous woman to include the person inside the story.”

To learn more about Country Joe McDonald’s Tribute to Florence Nightingale, you can visit the Web site he has devoted to her life and work:

You can also read my blog entry about the tribute at


About Author

Laura Goldbaum, RN, MS, NP, is the editorial director of NurseWeek’s California edition. To comment, e-mail

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