Garrison Keillor has done A Prairie Home Companion since 1974, except for a three-year sabbatical in 1987. He is the author of numerous books, including 77 Love Sonnets. He lives in St. Paul and New York with his wife, Jenny, and daughter Maia. Jenny is a violinist and violist who plays in the Minnesota Opera orchestra, formerly in the New York City Opera touring company. She is an avid reader, an art gallery-goer, and music lover, particularly opera and symphonic music. Maia is 12 and loves swimming and jokes and being around people.
Tim Russell has been a regular on A Prairie Home Companion since 1994. All those voices you hear on the program Henry Kissinger, Mr. Rogers, Jimmy (Guy Noir's favorite bartender down at the Five-Spot) yep, Tim Russell. Since beginning his radio career at WDBQ-AM in Dubuque, Iowa, he has been voted “Best Radio Host' by Mpls./St. Paul Magazine and “Outstanding Broadcast Personality' by the Minnesota Broadcasters Association. In addition to his Prairie Home duties and ongoing gigs as a commercial voice-over artist, Tim is entertainment editor on Minneapolis' WCCO radio.
For the past 18 years, Sue Scott has been a member of A Prairie Home Companion's Royal Academy of Radio Acting. Never short on versatility, she's played everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native and Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop alum is a highly regarded character actor who has performed in movies and on theater stages throughout the Twin Cities and the Midwest. She is also well known for her extensive voice-over work on radio and television.
Long ago, sound effects man Fred Newman was a freckle-faced, snaggletoothed kid sitting on a Coke box eating Popsicles and listening to storytellers in small-town Georgia, He is now an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for film and TV. In addition to his work on A Prairie Home Companion, he can be seen daily on the public television reading show Between the Lions. He's author of the book (and CD/CD-ROM) MouthSounds. Fred admits that, growing up, he was unceremoniously removed from a several classrooms, “once by my bottom lip.”
Richard Dworsky leads APHC's Guy's All-Star Shoe Band. A keyboardist, composer and arranger, Rich has accompanied Garrison Keillor on U.S. and European concert tours and has provided original music for many Keillor recordings. He has worked with numerous other performers, including Al Jarreau and singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth. For seven years, he worked with the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, and he served as music director for the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion. His many CDs include So Near and Dear to Me (Prairie Home Productions).
Chet Atkins called guitarist Pat Donohue “one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today.' So true. From swing and jazz to bottleneck blues and folk, Pat plays it all with a flourish of artistry and melodic inspiration. And he writes too unique compositions that have been recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers and others. Although most weekends are spent lending his talents to A Prairie Home Companion broadcasts, Pat manages to schedule dozens of solo concerts a year nationwide. Freewayman (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's albums.
For 10 years, bassist Gary Raynor taught in the University of Minnesota Jazz program, and he's now an instructor at McNally Smith College of Music in Saint Paul. He has toured with Sammy Davis Jr. and performed with the Count Basie Band and the Minnesota Pops Orchestra. In addition, Gary has played for productions by the Guthrie Theater, the Ordway Music Theatre, and for dozens of Broadway touring shows. He is featured on two Janet Jackson albums, and has worked with many Minnesota-based artists, including Moore by Four and Connie Evingson.
St. Paul-based percussionist Peter Johnson started his career with a group that performed daily at L.A.'s Magic Mountain theme park. Since then, he has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. For three years, he was drummer for The Manhattan Transfer, with whom he toured the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. He was also Gene Pitney's drummer and served as principal percussionist with the Minnesota Sinfonia. Peter has written hundreds of jingles and underscores for commercials, and he composed and produced music for two Sesame Street Live shows.
Andy Stein has recorded with Itzhak Perlman, Plácido Domingo, and Marilyn Horne; toured China with a string quartet; and performed with orchestras from New York to the Pacific Northwest. He has also been a featured soloist in a number of Broadway Shows. Check out his CD Doin' Things —A Little Like Joe Venuti (Stomp Off). As John S. Wilson, jazz critic for The New York Times, said, “For a classically trained violinist, Andy Stein has been so thoroughly subverted by a succession of other musical styles that he has become, to twist Ellington's phrase, ‘beyond category."
Multi-instrumentalist and two-time Minnesota Music Award winner Joe Savage is a frequent addition to the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band. Playing his primary instrument, pedal steel guitar, he has performed with classic country greats such as Bobby Bare, Stonewall Jackson, Hank Thompson, and Jean Shepard, to name a few. In addition to TV commercials, movie soundtracks, and various artists' projects, Joe's recording credits include his 2007 solo album, a sampling of his musical versatility titled Perennial Sideman. A new CD, Joe Savage Plays Country (Lilly Ray Records), is scheduled for release later this year.
BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet
During a New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Bob Dylan was asked what he thought of BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet. Dylan replied, “That's my kind of music!” Lots of folks could say the same. The band — Michael Doucet, David Doucet, Billy Ware, Tommy Alesi, Jimmy Breaux and Mitch Reed — has spent 30-plus years dedicated to preserving the Cajun style, and blending elements of zydeco, New Orleans jazz, Tex-Mex, and more into a tasty musical mix. Alligator Purse (Yep Roc Records) is the latest of their 29 albums.
As a kid, Twin Cities jazz singer Connie Evingson loved listening to her dad's record collection Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee. She grew up to be a top-flight artist in her own right, singing on concert and club stages worldwide. She is the creator of Fever, A Tribute to Peggy Lee, which she has performed throughout the U.S., and a new Peggy Lee show called “Happy with the Blues.” Connie has released eight albums on the Minnehaha Music label. The latest, Little Did I Dream, is a collection of songs by Dave Frishberg.
Heather Masse grew up in rural Maine and currently makes her home in New York. She frequently appears on A Prairie Home Companion, often with her band the Wailin' Jennys. In 2009, while the Jennys took a break from touring, Heather kept busy with other projects, like performing with her Brooklyn-based outfit, Heather and the Barbarians a group that first formed when the members were students at the New England Conservatory of Music. Heather's new solo album is called Song Bird (Red House).
Andrew Pierzina is a skilled and versatile acoustic and electric guitar player, known for good instincts and great tone. He has worked with a long list of Twin Cities groups, including the Andra Suchy Band. Andrew and Andra also represent the engineering know-how and vocal talent behind ASAProcks, their online recording session service, offering vocals, guitar work, and voice-overs.
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. She moved to Minneapolis in 1996, and these days, she sings with several local 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.
Salsa del Soul Quintet
Salsa del Soul Quintet formed almost a decade ago with one purpose in mind: to provide great dance music for Minneapolis/St. Paul-area salsa fans. Playing merengues, cha-chas, son montuno, and of course, salsa, this spicy group keeps dancers crowding the floor at clubs, festivals, and other events. The musicians of Salsa del Soul, who represent some of the finest on the Minnesota Latin music scene, are: Shai Hayo (timbales), Gloria “La Niña” Rivera (vocals), David Martin (bass), Bryan Rossi (piano), and Scott Agster (trombone).
Jearlyn Steele grew up in Indiana and first sang with her siblings (as the Steele Children). After she left home and moved to Minnesota, one by one the rest of the Steele kids followed. They started singing together again as the Steeles, and now music is the family business. Jearlyn also hosts Steele Talkin', a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis and is heard in some 30 states nationwide. Jearlyn Steele Sings Songs from A Prairie Home Companion is her most recent CD.
Billy Steele is a composer, keyboardist, and record producer who works with various artists, including the Steeles with sister Jearlyn and his other siblings (he's the baby of the family). He's also a member of the Minnesota-based Grammy-winning ensemble Sounds of Blackness. His voice can be heard on the Disney DVD John Henry, from the American Legends series, and on soundtracks with Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross, and many others. In addition, Billy Steele is an ordained minister.
Vern Sutton has collaborated with major musical organizations as a singer, actor, director and educator. He was a founding member of the Center Opera Company, which became the Minnesota Opera, and composers Dominick Argento, Robert Ward, Conrad Susa, Libby Larsen and others have written for his voice. For 36 years, he taught at the University of Minnesota School of Music, and for four summers he was artistic director of Opera in the Ozarks. At the Guthrie Theater, he has appeared in productions of A Christmas Carol and 1776. Vern was a guest on the very first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion.
After moving to Minneapolis from Des Moines, Iowa, in 2001 Tanner Taylor quickly became one of Minnesota's top jazz pianists. He has performed with renowned musicians such as Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, David "Fathead" Newman, Marilyn Maye, Dick Oatts, Eric Alexander, Lew Tabakin, Delfeayo Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby Shew, and Minnesota's own Connie Evingson. Tanner also tours nationally as pianist and conductor for the vocal ensemble Five by Design.
Robin and Linda Williams
Robin and Linda Williams first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1975, the same year they recorded their first album. In 2008, they released their 20th, Buena Vista (Red House Records). For more than three decades, these two have charmed listeners worldwide with their robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time and acoustic country. Robin and Linda claim that they make their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, but truth be told, they spend the lion's share of their time on the road. And fans at every stop are glad they do.
Documentary photographer Tom Arndt has traveled extensively, taking pictures of people of passion and unique character. His photographs reflect how we look and act and react to the powerful and everyday moments that connect our common experience. His 2009 book, Home, was published by the University of Minnesota Press in conjunction with Tom's one-person exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It contains 157 photographs that cover “small-town festivals and parades, street life in the Twin Cities, life on the farm, the four seasons, and the people and landscapes that make up the life of my state.”
During a long career at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Marcia Pankake oversaw the purchase of some 200,000 books, as well as periodicals, databases, microfilms, manuscripts and other materials. She was the co-editor of A Prairie Home Companion Folk Song Book (Viking) and editor of A Prairie Home Commonplace Book (HighBridge). How fitting that she's the one to convene the cruise book club. Old-time music fans may remember Marcia and her husband, Jon, as members of the popular Minnesota string band Uncle Willie & the Brandy Snifters.
John Saucke is a "a Scotch connoisseur of the highest order." So says the Campus Club of the University of Minnesota. How did he get that status? John explains: "It was luck. Back in the '90s, I was in a bagpipe band, where the members introduced me to good Scotch. That led to my evolving into an enthusiast. I have since become a presenter of outstanding Scotch whiskies at Whiskyfests in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco." In addition to leading the Scotch whisky presentations, this former member of the Minnesota Police Pipe Band will serve as the cruise bagpiper.
Joy Davina and Todd Paulus
Joy Davina and Todd Paulus are the co-owners of the Social Dance Studio in Minneapolis, specializing in group class education in Salsa, West Coast Swing, and Ballroom. The two compete and perform in Minnesota and on the national level, and they are thrilled to bring dance to the Prairie Home Companion cruise. Joy and Todd emphasize that dance is great exercise and fun for all, and they encourage everyone to attend their sessions with or without a partner.
Rich MacDonald & Natalie Springuel
For more than 25 years, naturalist Rich MacDonald has worked in the field of natural history and ecology, with an emphasis on birds. He has been on hand for all three previous Prairie Home cruises, helping passengers rack up an impressive list of birds. His ornithological interests have taken him from New York's Adirondack Mountains to the Dominican Republic. He has worked on the science staff of The Nature Conservancy and has taught ornithology at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Naturalist Natalie Springuel combines her passions for the marine environment and coastal heritage with a love of teaching and adventure to help people discover the ocean and coast. She works for the Maine Sea Grant College Program, creating programs on the ecology and culture of coastal regions. A Master Maine Guide for sea kayaking and recreation, she has led thousands of visitors on ocean and coastal adventures, by land and by sea. Her marine pursuits have taken her from the mangroves of Florida to the icebergs of Newfoundland.
Kris Bennett found her love for the Caribbean when studying marine biology at the Center for Marine Resource Management on South Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands. She now teaches high school biology and marine biology on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and works closely with the Virgin Islands National Park Service as well as other research organizations to create greater awareness and understanding of the ocean and island environment of St. John. She was named the 2009 Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Person of the Year for demonstrating her ability to effectively preserve the coastal and ocean resources through environmental programs and dedicated work in the coastal zone.
After earning a B.S. in biology from UCLA and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Washington, naturalist Helen Hess joined the faculty of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. She has 25 years’ experience as a researcher and teacher throughout the Caribbean, focusing on the ecology and evolution of invertebrates and coral reef fish. Her work has taken her to Panama, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Tobago, and the Yucatán Peninsula. Even after thousands of hours of snorkeling and scuba diving in the Caribbean, she has yet to enter the water without seeing something new.
Susan Roney Drennan
Author and tour leader Susan Roney Drennan was the National Audubon Society's Vice President for Ornithology and was for many years Editor-in-Chief of American Birds, the ornithological publication of the National Audubon Society. She has led nature odysseys around the world and has birded extensively in North, South, and Central America, Antarctica, the Arctic, Africa, and Europe. Her books include Where to Find Birds in New York State: The Top 500 Sites, The Birder's Field Notebook, and The North American Birder's Library Lifelist.