Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon grew up in north central Wisconsin. While a student at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, he started soaking up the music of folk artists like Roscoe Holcomb and Clarence Ashley. Then, in what was to be a three-month independent study project on old-time banjo players, he headed south. And while he ultimately earned a degree, the quest to learn about America's musical traditions is still under way. He is master of a dozen traditional instruments, and his thirty-plus recordings have garnered numerous honors, including seven Grammy nominations. His most recent release is Sermon on the Mound (Appalsongs).
Tenor Vern Sutton remembers his first applause—in first grade, for his performance in the role of Baby Bear in Goldilocks. From that day on, he was hooked on show business, appearing with many major orchestras, opera companies, and musical groups and earning an international reputation for his work with the BBC, the New Opera Theatre of New York, the Wolf Trap Festival and more. He spent 36 years as a faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Music, heading up the opera program and serving as director of the School of Music. He has directed plays, operas and musicals all over the Midwest. Vern was a guest on the very first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion.
Andra Suchy spent her childhood on a farm near Mandan, North Dakota, the daughter of two talented singers. By the time she was in grade school, she was traveling around, doing concerts and festivals with her family. These days, she sings with several groups in the Twin Cities area including the all-girl trio The Dollys. She also works as a back-up singer and as a jingle singer on commercials for White Castle, Target, and more. Andra's solo CD is called Patchwork Story.
Lake Wobegon Brass Band
One Minnesota winter morning in early 1992, Gordy Nilsen, Dave Peterson and Ric Perkins sat in the Anoka Coffee Shop talking about starting a brass band. Soon the pieces began falling into place:
Potential players were contacted, music was borrowed from the Sheldon Brass Band in Red Wing, and the first rehearsal was held. Then they asked Garrison Keillor for permission to use the name of the town he put on the map through books and weekly monologues. "The only condition," he said, "is that you will let me know when the band is formed ... and that at some mutually convenient time, you'll play at a picnic for me."
The Lake Wobegon Brass Band is under the direction of Mike Halstenson.
St. John's Boys' Choir
Founded in 1981 by Brother Paul Richards of the Saint John's monastic community, the St. John's Boys' Choir, for boys ages eight to 15, has grown to include four musical ensembles: Concert Choir, Junior Varsity Choir, Training Choir, and Recorder Ensemble. Although strong ties are maintained with the monastic community and Saint John's University, the choir has been an independent group since 1993. Now in its 28th season, the choir provides an environment that nurtures and encourages creativity. Members represent home, public, and private schools in more than 15 communities around central Minnesota. The group's latest album is called Love's Pure Light. The St. John's Boys' Choir is under the direction of Brother Paul Richards.
In 2006, Amy Klobuchar became the first woman elected to represent the state of Minnesota in the United States Senate. (Muriel Humphrey also served, appointed to complete the term of her husband, Hubert Humphrey.) She was born and raised in the Twin Cities, then attended Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School. Senator Klobuchar who sits on five Senate committees: Agriculture, Environment and Public Works, Commerce, Judiciary, and the Joint Economic Committee recently had her hands full, doing the work of two senators while Minnesota sorted out its election results.
Since 2006, Tarryl Clark has served in the Minnesota Senate, representing District 15, which includes portions of Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties. She is also the Assistant Majority Leader. Born on a Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, she grew up in Glenview, Illinois, and later Phoenix, Arizona. She studied sociology and psychology at Drake University, earned a Master's in education from Arizona State University and a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law. Tarryl and her husband, Doug, make their home in St. Cloud.
Leigh Lenzmeier is a Stearns County Commissioner and chairman of the Board of Commissioners 4th District, representing the southeastern part of the county, including the townships of Fair Haven and Lynden, the city of St. Augusta, and a portion of the city of St. Cloud. He is a graduate of St. Cloud State University, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in economics and an M.B.A. Leigh and his wife, Alice, are owners of Lenzmeier Real Estate Services in St. Cloud, Minnesota, the commercial appraisal company they started in 1984.
John Grutsch is the mayor of Avon, Minnesota, the town he has called home since he was eight years old. After graduating from Albany (Minnesota) High School, he attended Northwest Technical Institute. He served in the Avon Fire Department for 23 years, and for 18 years, he was president and treasurer of the Avon Fire Relief Association. He also spent five years on the city council. In addition to his duties as mayor, John Grutsch is involved in several local businesses, including the Avon Laundromat and Grutsch Plumbing and Heating.
For many years, Bud Heidgerken and his wife, Ann, were the owners and operators of Charlie's Cafe, a Freeport, Minnesota, eatery not unlike the Chatterbox Cafe. From 2002 to 2008, he was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, representing district 13A. He retired after three terms in office. In his farewell remarks to his House colleagues, he said: "I've tried to remember how the folks in Sunburg or Glencoe or Melrose or Sauk Centre would want me to vote. A lot of times, that got me in trouble. ... When I'm driving back to Cow Country (I always say, I represent more cows than people), I want to have the right taste in my mouth."
Jerry Bierschbach has been playing concertina since he was barely into his teens. His specialty is old-time polka music in the New Ulm style, but you'll also catch him playing classic country, modern swing tunes, and more. He grew up on a dairy farm in Long Prairie, and for 18 years, he had his own dairy farm north of Albany, Minnesota. He also ran beef cattle for a few years. But these days, he plays music full time, performing at dances, weddings, anniversary celebrations, and nursing homes.
Pastor Steve Hilde
Steve Hilde has been the pastor of Long Bridge, Salem, and Sauk Valley Lutheran churches for 28 years. Born in Billings, Montana, he attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, where he thought of becoming a medical missionary until he got a "D" in chemistry. He counts funerals as one of the best parts of his job: After being part of a congregation for almost three decades, he can talk about the special blessings each person has been given. Pastor Steve and his wife have five children, ages 2028. Central Minnesota is a great place to raise a family, he says. The people here are "hardworking, good, strong, salt of the earth."
Father Steve Binsfeld
Father Steve Binsfeld is pastor of St. Mary's Church in Alexandria, Minnesota, and former rector of St. Mary's Cathedral in St. Cloud, Minnesota, his hometown. After graduating from St. Cloud State College, his began training at St. John's University and Seminary in Collegeville. He was ordained in 1979. In his first post-ordination assignment, he was "scared to death" about hearing confession so nervous that he forgot how to open the confessional door. He remembers shaking it vigorously while the congregation tried to keep from laughing.
World War II veteran Ralph Lauer was born in Farming, Minnesota, an unincorporated German town of about 50 people. His family spoke German, and Ralph didn't learn English until the fifth grade. He was drafted in September of 1942 and sent to France, where he was a scout for the 109th Infantry, Company L. When his company made it across the border to Germany, Sergeant Lauer worked as an interpreter in the German towns, getting civilians out before bombings and seeking out the mayor after a town had been surrendered to the Allied Forces. Sergeant Lauer and his wife, Marie, make their home in Albany, Minnesota.
World War II veteran Clarence Fischbach was raised on a farm near Avon, Minnesota. His family spoke German, and Clarence didn't speak English until he was six years old. In 1941, he was drafted and sent to the European Theater. Corporal Fischbach wore a radio on his back and translated messages from the German army for his unit. He also worked as an interpreter with German prisoners of war. For his military service, he was awarded five bronze stars, among other honors. He returned to Minnesota on December 2, 1945. Clarence and his wife, Betty, live in Sauk Centre.
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
Richard Dworsky, who week in and week out leads A Prairie Home Companion's Guy's All-Star Shoe Band, is a classically trained pianist and composer who rocks, swings, plays great blues and gospel, tears it up on Hammond B3 organ, and keeps up with world-class pickers playing his unique "bluegrass piano" style. He writes all APHC's script themes and underscores, and during his 16-year stint, he has accompanied guests from James Taylor to Renée Fleming. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me (Prairie Home Productions).
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest finger pickers in the world today. And he writes songs too recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers and others. Freewayman (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's nine albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band, Sammy Davis Jr. with whom he toured for several years and the Minnesota Klezmer Band. He teaches jazz bass at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
J.T. Bates started playing drums when he was seven. By the time he was 15, he was sitting in with his dad's big band. Since then, he has backed up countless musicians, as well as working with his own bands — Fat Kid Wednesdays and Poor Line Condition.