All About the Music
A closer look at and companion to the music we play on the show, written by the Prairie Home music librarian, Kathryn Slusher.



Marvin and Mavis Keep Smilin'
By Kathryn Slusher

May 2003

After a restful week, we are returning home to broadcast from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul May 10 and 17. Some familiar faces will be returning for the May 10 show- Robin and Linda Williams, along with Their Fine Group, will visit us from the sunny Shenandoah valley. I am excited at the possibility of a return visit from their alter egos, Marvin and Mavis Smiley. I know that some of you are big fans of the Smiley cover album collection and are probably yearning for more information about our dynamic duo.

Marvin & Mavis first showed up on A Prairie Home Companion on July 23, 1983. Robin Williams recalls that Garrison gave them a special assignment for that show- to come up with a bunch of Broadway songs that they could perform in a bluegrass style. So Robin and Linda figured out a few songs that worked, like "Hello Dolly", "Cabaret", and "Tonight" from West Side Story, strung them all together, and called it Broadway Bluegrass. Robin & Linda named themselves "Marvin and Mavis Smiley and the Manhattan Valley Boys." Peter Ostroushko played fiddle or mandolin on it and Doug Lohman played bass. When I asked Robin about that show, he said "We'd never done anything like that before and I remember it as being hard to do. In fact we never finished it in rehearsal. It kept falling apart. But it was going to be on the show so, sweating bullets, we went out there and did it. There's something about doing something live that makes everyone focus and pull things together. And they were hits! At least that day."

Robin and Linda Williams as
Marvin and Mavis Smiley
With that performance, new stars were born! Tragically, the Manhattan Valley Boys disbanded shortly thereafter, and Marvin & Mavis went into a reclusive period. They triumphantly re-emerged in the late 90s and have gone on to make repeat performances on APHC, re-interpreting the hits from several genres for their high-profile (and fictional!) record label, Do-Tell Records.

The final broadcast of the 1998-1999 season featured Marvin & Mavis Smiley's Songs of Summer Album. All the hits of summer are here - George Gershwin's "Summertime" from Porgy & Bess, The Beach Boys' 1963 classic "Surfer Girl" and of course The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City". Plus many more!

Listen

Christmastime 2000 brought us the festive sounds of Marvin & Mavis' Mountain Merry Christmas.

Listen

And the talented and versatile duo tackled the realm of Grand Opera on a show originally broadcast on May 12, 2001. Here they were promoting their 114th album, Down Home Diva.

Listen | Script

Notice their firm grasp on the Italian language!

Marvin and Mavis had a brief prolific period last spring, and really challenged their crossover ability with two new tribute albums, Marvin & Mavis Do Motown

Listen

and Blowin' in the Bluegrass, an album saluting the music of local hero Bob Dylan

Listen | Script

Marvin & Mavis are true survivors, lasting almost 20 years in the crazy business of making fake bluegrass cover albums. Last December, at a show from the Town Hall in New York, the Smileys came full circle, with an update on the genre that started it all- Broadway. While their historical 1983 performance mostly included selections from the great musicals of the '60s, the 2002 version showcases how Marvin & Mavis have evolved through the decades, expanding the boundaries of their musical prowess. This time fresh, inspired selections from new musicals such as Rent, the disco-themed Mamma Mia!, and Baz Luhrmann's staging of La Boheme, among others, are featured.

Listen

So, will a new chapter in the history of The Smileys begin this Saturday at the Fitzgerald Theater? Tune in at 5 pm central to find out.





Past Articles
  • Winding Down at Wolf Trap (5/27/04)
  • Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew (3/26/04)
  • California, I'm Coming Home (11/26/03)
  • The Songs of Johnny Cash (10/23/03)
  • The Music of Lennon and McCartney (07/01/03)
  • A Tanglewood Lollapalooza (06/01/03)
  • Marvin and Mavis Keep Smilin' (05/01/03)
  • Classical Parodies (04/01/03)
  • Good Cookin': the Songs of Memphis Minnie (03/01/03)


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    Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

    Old Sweet Songs

    Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

    Available now»

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