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Singer-songwriter has mission to inspire

November 3, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - When Marquette singer-songwriter Jerry Mills stopped in The Mining Journal's office, the interview was going to focus on a recent item he'd crossed off his bucket list.

But he had something else weighing on his mind.

"My life is about the song. I have been deeply blessed with a gift of lyrics and melody and feel a divine responsibility to share the songs," he said. "Today, this song comes to mind, in tribute to the millions of our fellow Americans devastated by Hurricane Sandy."

Article Photos

Jerry Mills performs at a recent concert at Peter White Public Library in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)

The song is "Believe," an inspiring tune he wrote for a group of Hurricane Katrina survivors to whom he was going to speak.

Since he composed the song, Mills includes it at every performance, including at speaking gigs he does around the world.

Mills has taken an interesting journey to the life he's living now.

Fact Box


No one ever told you life was easy.

But no one ever said it would be this hard.

Getting hit by the power of a hurricane

Certainly caught everyone off guard...

Total devastation! Everything destroyed...

Everything but you!

So let's see this thing through...

Tell me what you're gonna do now...

Believe! Believe!

You were never warned of life's uncertainties.

Never knowing what the future holds.

Do you pick up the pieces and start again?

Or do you let the troubles knock you out cold?

A terrible disaster!

Everything in ruins...

Everything but you...

So let's see this thing through...

Tell me what you're gonna do now...

Believe! Believe!

An absolute catastrophe!

Everything's come undone...

Everything but you...

So let's see this thing through...

Tell me what you're gonna do now...

Believe! Believe!

Tell me what you're gonna do now...

Believe! Believe!



Lyrics and Music 2006

Jerry Mills /ASCAP

"I grew up in a large, musical Irish Catholic family in a northern Chicago suburb," Mills said. "I went to college intending to become an attorney. I studied writing at the University of Iowa and before continuing to law school, I hitchhiked around the U.S. for almost a year and I got dropped off hitchhiking in Marquette in 1982, 30 years ago.

"My sister (Marita) was living here and always told me I should come to see this place. I got here, she left a month later and I stayed."

After living for a time in Grand Marais and Gwinn, Mills moved to Marquette some 20 years ago. He worked in emergency medical services before becoming an elementary school teacher for the Marquette Area Public Schools.

Then his life took a turn.

"In 1993 I requested and was given the opportunity to speak, sing and perform for the entire MAPS district staff," he said. "Within three years I was speaking internationally as far away as Sydney and Melbourne, Australia."

Now, Mills does keynote concert presentations for associations and organizations.

"I call what I do 'emotional defibrillation.' Through personal stories, original songs and multimedia, I take people on a high-impact journey that stays with them for a long, long time," he said.

His music certainly has been heard in many places around the globe, one song in particular.

"In 2010, I composed and produced a music video, 'Come Join Us,' which serves as a major theme song for Rotary International worldwide and features almost 50 of Nashville's finest musicians and background vocalists," Mills said.

Mills had always loved music, but didn't take up playing the guitar until age 15, as therapy after an accident injured his right hand. His songwriter career started when he came to Marquette in 1982 and he began performing regularly around the area.

"I've composed hundreds of songs, many of them written here in Marquette along the shores of Lake Superior," Mills said. "I have recorded three CDs and am currently working on number four due out in the summer of 2013."

And about that bucket list experience: Through an evolving set of circumstances, Mills was able to play four songs on the stage of The Cavern Club in Liverpool, the place where The Beatles sound was formed. As he read the green room sign that said "welcome to the most famous club in the world."

"I cried some Irish tears," Mills said.

As a youngster, he used his Tinkertoys to make only one item: A microphone. The song he liked to sing, "A Little Help From My Friends" by The Beatles.

"Next to the birth of my son, it was one of the greatest honors of my life. It felt as though my life had come full circle."

It all keeps with the four words Mills keeps handy on a Post-It in his guitar case, words he shares during his motivational speeches: Don't Doubt The Dream. And he feels as though he is indeed living his dream.

"For 20 years now, I have been fortunate to travel to many parts of the planet," Mills said. "But wherever I roam, I have Marquette to look forward to as my home. Lake Superior is my muse and has been the vehicle for so much of my inspiration and creativity. While I was not born here, I have adopted the people and places of this region into my heart and am grateful to call this place home."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is



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