How the real ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ inspired Julian Lennon to support lupus awareness

How the real 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' inspired Julian Lennon to support lupus awareness

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“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was written primarily by John Lennon, and made its debut in 1967 on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

The song title was inspired by John Lennon’s son, Julian, who drew a very special picture when he was not quite four years old.

According to John, “My son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, ‘What is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,’ and I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ I immediately wrote a song about it.”

According to Steve Turner’s book The Beatles: The Stories Behind the Songs 1967-1970, Julian Lennon said many years later, “I don’t know why I called it that or why it stood out from all my other drawings, but I obviously had an affection for Lucy at that age.

“I used to show dad everything I’d built or painted at school, and this one sparked off the idea for a song…”

That sweet little bit of preschool artistry ended up being just the first of many ways that little Miss Lucy O’Donnell has been memorialized.

Julian Lennon’s support for lupus awareness

Since 2011, musician and philanthropist Julian Lennon has been the Global Ambassador for the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA). The role of Global Ambassador is to elevate lupus on the world’s health agenda, and increase awareness of the needs of the more than five million people living with lupus and their families around the world.

As Global Ambassador, Lennon supports public awareness initiatives to observe World Lupus Day (May 10), and Lupus Awareness Month each May. He also helps to raise funds for lupus research, including the Lucy Vodden Research Grant Award, which was established in 2010 by the LFA and Julian Lennon.

Lucy (O'Donnell) Vodden - Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Lucy (O’Donnell) Vodden – The real Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

The grant is named in memory of Lucy (O’Donnell) Vodden, Lennon’s childhood friend, who lost her battle with lupus in 2009 at the age of 46.

Lucy, of course, was the subject of the drawing Lennon created back in 1966 that inspired his father to write the classic Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

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As such, Lennon has been a longtime supporter of raising awareness and funds for lupus research. In fact, in 2009, he and musician James Scott Cook released the song “Lucy” in honor of Vodden. Proceeds from the song benefited the LFA and the Lupus Trust in London.

at the Variety Power of Young Hollywood Event, Neuehouse, Hollywood, CA 08-16-16
Julian Lennon at the Variety Power of Young Hollywood Event, Neuehouse, Hollywood, CA 08-16-16 (Photo: S Bukley)
Julian Lennon talks about the first Lucy, his song “Lucy,” and lupus

Julian Lennon answered a few questions for NIH MedlinePlus magazine in 2014.

Tell us about how you came to be an advocate for those with lupus.

My work with lupus organizations came about because of my dear friend Lucy Vodden from “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” who passed away a few years ago from lupus. (Lucy Vodden, shown above, died from lupus in 2009, at age 46.)

I decided to write a little song. I had a friend named James Scott Cook whose grandmother is named Lucy, who is still alive I believe, and she had lupus, too.

We wrote a song together called “Lucy” and donated a good portion of the earnings to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) and Saint Thomas’ Lupus Trust in the UK.

As seen below, Julian Lennon’s childhood drawing, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” became the album cover for “Lucy.”

Julian Lennon - Lucy

LFA asked me to become an ambassador to promote lupus awareness, and I said absolutely.

I’ve been gung ho now supporting them and promoting their cause as much as possible, and I’m generally at most of their events and galas. I took Whoopi Goldberg with me last year. She was honored, as she’s been an advocate for lupus, too.

The older I get, the more involved I tend to become. We’re talking to MusicCares and a whole host of other foundations with which we could work together and mutually benefit each foundation.

What messages do you want the public to hear about lupus and lupus research?

There is still much work to be done, but with education and research, and just a bit of everyone’s help, we can make a difference and change the course of most with this painful disease.

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You mentioned you are now serving as Global Ambassador for the Lupus Foundation of America. What do you hope to achieve with this effort?

I hope to raise awareness on a global level… Lucy was such an inspiration on so many levels, including to me as a young child.

I hope her memory will help others in their fight and inspire compassion — no matter how little (because every little bit helps) — anything anybody can do is usually important. It’s something that should be at the forefront of everybody’s day and mind.

What does the future hold for Julian Lennon as a musician and philanthropist?

I just continue to move forward and be as happy as I can doing so, and to help people along the way. That’s my goal. That’s all that matters to me, really.

I’m fortunate enough to have a healthy life, so far. I’m fortunate enough that I’m being able to do the things that I love to do, whether it’s music, photography, or the foundation. For me, it’s just a constant growth in all those areas and just trying to be a better person all around — that’s the most important thing for me.

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