Garrison Keillor has hosted A Prairie Home Companion since 1974, except for a three-year sabbatical in 1987. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and daughter.
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man. More recently, he was cast as the patriarch of a farm family in the independent film drama Fallen Branches. Tim is also a film critic; his reviews can be found at russellreviews.com
Sue Scott has taken her talents from the stage to the airwaves doing "funny voices on the radio" with A Prairie Home Companion's Royal Academy of Radio Actors since 1992. Never short on versatility, she has played everything from overly concerned moms to Guy Noir femme fatales to black belt reference librarians to devastatingly beautiful super models to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. A highly regarded character actor who has appeared in movies and on theater stages throughout the Midwest, she is also well known for her extensive voice-over work on radio and television. Sue Scott, Seriously Silly, a CD produced by A Prairie Home Companion, highlights Sue's best work ... so far.
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."
Mezzo-soprano Natalie Arduino, an alumna of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, has appeared throughout the country with many opera companies, festivals and orchestras, including Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera, Ohio Light Opera, Hawaii Chamber, Opera Festival of New Jersey, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Her operatic repertoire includes Hansel (Hänsel and Gretel), Dorabella (Così fan tutte), Krista (The Makropoulos Case), and Dinah (Trouble in Tahiti). Her Carnegie Hall debut was with the Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra as alto soloist in Handel's Messiah. Among her recent performances is the title role in Holst's opera Savitri with Grace Song Inc. in Houston.
Tenor Zachary Averyt, a seventh-generation Texan, delights audiences from both the operatic and concert stage. He appears frequently with the Grammy-nominated ensemble Ars Lyrica and collaborates regularly in recital with pianist Keith Weber. Zachary pursues a diverse repertoire; he has recently appeared as a featured soloist in performances of Mozart, Britten, Korngold, Donizetti, Bach, Stravinsky, and the gospel composer Robert Ray. He holds performance degrees from Rice University and the University of Houston, has served on the faculty for The American Festival of the Arts, and currently lives and teaches in Houston.
Pianist/accordionist Dan Chouinard is a Twin Cities native who regularly creates special programs that blend storytelling and music — many of these for Minnesota Public Radio. He spent six years as host and producer of The Singer's Voice, an acclaimed live-performance St. Paul radio series. His recordings include 2011's In Our Little Paradise: Songs of P.G. Wodehouse (with soprano Maria Jette) and 2008's Collaborationist, a compilation of performances with Peter Ostroushko, Maria Jette, Richard Dworsky, and others. When not working as a musician, Dan travels the world by bicycle, with tent and accordion in tow, seeking out new repertoire and music-making opportunities.
The DiGiallonardo Sisters
The DiGiallonardo Sisters, born and raised in Brooklyn, have been singing together since early childhood. They still call New York City home, and they still love stacking up those three-part harmonies. Daniela has sung with a variety of bands, including The Demensions and The King's County All-Stars. She also teaches at Brooklyn's Mark Twain School for the Gifted & Talented. Nadia is a pianist, composer, arranger, and singer, who served as musical director/conductor for the 2009 Broadway production of HAIR. Christine is a singer and actor whose credits include Two Gentlemen of Verona (Shakespeare in the Park Festival) and My Fair Lady (Lincoln Center). Her voice can be heard on TV commercials for Mr. Clean, Aquafresh, Febreze, and more.
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. Nobody's Fault (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's albums.
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).
Joe Ely left Lubbock, Texas, as a teenager and "followed Woody Guthrie west and the blues guys down south; was on the West Coast during all the big hippie days." He even joined Ringling Brothers Circus, where he cared for the llamas and the "World's Smallest Horse." Then, after living in Europe for a while, the singer/songwriter returned to Texas. His 2008 book, Bonfire of Roadmaps (University of Texas Press), is a collection of poems and drawings culled from his traveling journals. And his many recordings include Satisfied At Last (Rack 'Em Records) and Odessa Tapes (New West Records) with the Flatlanders (Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock).
Soprano Julia Fox's repertoire spans seven centuries, and her artistry shines in concert hall, opera theater, or intimate gallery. Growing up, she trained in both violin and singing, but soon the beauty of her voice led her to tour nationally and internationally, and the violin stayed in its case. She went on to study vocal music at Amherst College, and she's now in her second season, currently as a Fellow, with the Young Artist Program at Da Camera of Houston. She has performed with the Brentano String Quartet, the Peabody Trio, the Dallas Bach Society, the Greenbriar Consortium, and more. Known for her vivid portrayals in the opera realm, her roles have included Cunegonde (Candide), Gretel (Hänsel und Gretel), Belinda (Dido and Aeneas), and Micaëla (Carmen).
Versatile soprano Maria Jette can sing opera one minute, then make a sharp turn to pop songs, chamber music, oratorio, or show tunes the next. She is often a guest on A Prairie Home Companion and has appeared with orchestras nationwide, including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Minnesota Orchestra. She has collaborated with choral groups across the U.S. and has been a frequent performer at the Oregon Bach and San Luis Obispo Mozart festivals and the Oregon Festival of American Music. Among her recordings is In Our Little Paradise: Songs of P.G. Wodehouse, with pianist/accordionist Dan Chouinard.
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.
Richard Kriehn is an Instructor and the Academic Advisor for the School of Music at Washington State University in Pullman Washington. He teaches violin, Guitar Class, Survey of Music Literature, Fundamental Music Theory and Introduction to Music Technology. Richard earned his BM from Boise State University and his MA in Music from Washington State University.
He has been a member of, or performed with, the Washington-Idaho Symphony, Boise Philharmonic, Arkansas Symphony, Nashville Chamber Orchestra and the Alabama Symphony. He also served as concertmaster and a founding member of Boise Baroque Chamber Orchestra (Boise, Idaho). Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, he and his family lived just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. While in Tennessee, he toured with Travis Tritt, Aaron Tippin and Michael Peterson, was a member of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and was a member of the bluegrass group "1946." When Richard wasn't traveling, he transcribed mandolin books for Mel Bay Publications (four to date) and performed studio work. During his five years in Nashville, he appeared at many diverse venues: Country Gold Festival, Kumamoto, Japan; The Rosie O'Donnell Show (ABC); The Grand Ole' Opry (TNN); Walker, Texas Ranger (CBS); Farm Aid 2000 (TNN).
Richard lives in Colton, Washington with his wife Danette, and their three children Caitlyn, Zachary and Joshua.
Composer, arranger, producer, guitarist Dean Magraw studied at the University of Minnesota and the Berklee School of Music in Boston. His first recording, Broken Silence, came out in 1994 and won the NAIRD award for Best Acoustic Instrumental Album of the Year. Dean has since turned out a bunch of dazzling albums, including his latest, How the Light Gets In (Red House), a collaboration with renowned tabla player Marcus Wise. Guitarist Steve Tibbetts aptly described Dean's guitar playing as "so liquid, lyrical, and effortless, it's like listening to a dancer."
Growing up in rural Maine, Heather Masse sang hymns and folk songs around home with her family. Now based in New York, this New England Conservatory of Music alum is a one-third of the Juno Award-winning Canadian trio The Wailin' Jennys. Her solo album, Bird Song, was released in 2009 on Red House Records. Her latest recording with the Jennys is Bright Morning Stars. And this year, she joined forces with piano legend Dick Hyman — whom she met when they were both booked on A Prairie Home Companion — to release Lock My Heart (Red House), a winning mix of Heather's originals and Tin Pan Alley classics.
Mandolinist/composer Peter Ostroushko grew up listening to tunes played at family get-togethers in the Ukrainian community of northeast Minneapolis. It's the music that provides the basis for many of his compositions. His first recording session was an uncredited mandolin set on Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Since then, his works have been performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, among others, and his music is featured on public television specials such as Ken Burns' The National Parks and Minnesota: A History of the Land, for which Peter won an Emmy. The Mando Chronicles, Peter's three-CD boxed set, was released in 2012 on Red House Records.
Lyric baritone Gabriel Preisser spent his youth in the small town of Apopka, Florida. Now, his 30-plus operatic and musical theater roles have taken him across the country, with companies that include Minnesota Opera, El Paso Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Pensacola Opera, and Kentucky Opera. He has also appeared as a soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra, Orlando Philharmonic, Ars Lyrica, Atlanta Ballet, Mercury Baroque, and others. A district winner in the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition and winner of the American finals of the Concorso Lirico International Competition in 2011, he holds vocal performance degrees from Florida State University and the University of Houston.
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.
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.
Born in Italy to parents from Minnesota, Hilary Thavis grew up loving music — especially folk music — from Woody Guthrie to Italian folk singers like Fabrizio De André and Francesco De Gregori. But it was the blues that ultimately captured her attention. In the past years, she has toured extensively with the band Gaia Groove, performing in the United States as well as Europe and fine-tuning a repertoire of original and cover songs in both English and Italian. Her album, Trouble & Truth, is inspired by various musical currents, including blues, folk, jazz, and Ennio Morricone-style Western melodies. It was released in 2011.
Butch Thompson is one of the most prominent musicians in traditional jazz. Born in Marine-on-St. Croix, Minnesota, he was playing Christmas carols on his mother's upright piano by age three, and began lessons at six. He picked up the clarinet in high school and led his first jazz group, “Shirt Thompson and His Sleeves,” as a senior. Still in his teens, he began making frequent visits to New Orleans to learn from veteran musicians like clarinetist George Lewis. He played American and European festivals and by 1974, he had become A Prairie Home Companion's house pianist. He has traveled the world, from Cairo to Tokyo, as a soloist and with his trio and eight-piece Jazz Originals Band. His many recordings include the Grammy-winning Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton on the Verve label and a long-running solo series on Daring Records of Boston.
Grammy-nominated producer Keith Weber wears a bunch of hats: choral and orchestral conductor, vocal coach, choral clinician, organist, harpsichordist, pianist, and collaborator widely known for musical versatility and excellence. On this Prairie Home Cruise, he serves as pianist/coordinator for four opera singers: Julia Fox (soprano), Natalie Arduino (mezzo-soprano), Zach Averyt (tenor), and Gabriel Preisser (baritone). Keith was the founding Associate Musical Director of the Lyric Opera of Dallas. He is currently Director of Music and Organist at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston and Artistic Director of Grace Song, Inc., an organization that presents concerts of vocal chamber music, helps young singers develop their careers, and commissions exciting new music.
Performer and teacher Jed Wilson began studying piano as a youngster in Gladstone, Oregon. By the time he reached his teens, he was active on the Portland jazz scene and was winning prestigious awards — like DownBeat magazine's Best High School Jazz Soloist honor three years in a row. While earning a degree in Jazz Performance from New England Conservatory, he began a long-standing collaboration with jazz vocalist Dominique Eade. The two have toured widely and in 2006 released a critically acclaimed CD, Open. More recently, Jed has performed extensively with singer/songwriter Heather Masse, including two album releases and a host of appearances throughout North America.
Robin and Linda Williams
"Individually their voices can melt cheese, and in duet they can do all-purpose welding," Garrison Keillor has said of Robin and Linda Williams. Singing the music they love, be it bluegrass, folk, old-time, or acoustic country, these two have carved out a more than three-decade career that has taken them from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. They first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1975, the same year they recorded their first album. Last year marked the release of their 22nd, These Old Dark Hills (Red House Records). 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.
For 40 years, Jackson Bryce taught Latin and Greek language and literature, as well as courses in Greek and Roman history and civilization, at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He is still on staff there in the music department to teach bassoon and contrabassoon and coach chamber music groups, and he plays in a number of civic orchestras in the Twin Cities. He is also active in parish music, where his specialty is plainchant, and as a choral singer. He has traveled extensively in the ancient Mediterranean world on sabbatical leaves in wild pursuit of the remnants of ancient Greece and Rome, and he carries on a passionate affair with Oxford in England, which (he laments) he can ill afford.
Kim Christensen is a knitter, a spinner, and — as luck would have it — a teacher. Based in Minnesota, she has taught at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, and any number of yarn stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. During the Prairie Home Cruise, sunny vineyards, handcrafted rugs, and baroque architecture will serve as inspiration for participants in Kim's classes to get those needles clicking and find new joys in the art of knitting.
Dan Johnson has been immersed in the world of medicine all his life — a small-town internist married to a nurse, and the son of a small-town GP and nurse. He is many other things: active in healthcare IT development and quality assurance, a good writer and editor, a mediocre musician (recovering trombonist), an airplane and glider pilot who writes on aviation medicine, a retired sailor, a skilled photographer, and a grower of grapes. He's grossly ignorant of popular culture, but has been able to function as a responsible, independent adult regardless, even able to shop for groceries by himself. He's not good with plumbing, but can glue toys and dishes back together pretty well.
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.
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.
Myriam Springuel has some helpful hints when it comes to experiencing great art. She has worked in and for museums for more than 30 years, focusing on ways to encourage learning and appreciation while having fun during a visit to a museum or a stroll through a historic city. After earning an M.A. in Art History from the University of Maryland, she began her career at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and has worked at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, and at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. In 1995, Myriam founded Springuel Consulting, which helps museums and related nonprofits around the United States respond to change and create engaging visitor experiences.
John Thavis left his native Minnesota in 1977 and went to Italy as a student of archeology. He fell in love with the country. In the decades that followed, he became news editor for the Rome Daily American and Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service, covering the Vatican and reporting on religion-related stories from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. He also wrote a guidebook to Rome and worked for the Associated Press, ABC News, and Wine Spectator. In 2012, John and his family moved back to Minnesota, but he continues to travel to Rome and to follow affairs at the Vatican. His 2013 book, The Vatican Diaries (Viking Penguin), chronicles life inside the Vatican walls.
For more than 25 years, naturalist Rich MacDonald has worked in the fields of natural history and ecology, with an emphasis on birds. His ornithological interests have taken him from New York's Adirondack Mountains, where he worked on the science staff of The Nature Conservancy, to the Dominican Republic, and to Bar Harbor, Maine, where he has taught ornithology at College of the Atlantic. He has been on hand for all the Prairie Home cruises, helping passengers rack up an impressive list of birds. These days, Rich — along with his wife, Natalie Springuel — operates The Natural History Center, a Bar Harbor-based retail store and nature tour business.
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. She has led thousands of visitors on ocean and coastal adventures, by land and by sea, and is especially keen on helping Prairie Home passengers discover what lives beneath the waves.
Lytton Musselman is, by his own admission, a man who loves plants. "He will stop people on the street to tell them some great news from the plant world," says Garrison Keillor. He earned a Ph.D. in botany from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and was chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he holds the Mary Payne Hogan Chair of Botany. His most recent books are Plants of the Chesapeake Bay with David Knepper and The Quick Guide to Edible Plants with Harold Wiggins (both from the Johns Hopkins University Press). Dr. Musselman has lived and worked in in several Mediterranean countries studying plants of the Bible and Qur'an, and he continues to make annual trips to the Middle East as a Visiting Professor at the American University of Iraq. Closer to home, he is working on books on edible plants of the Appalachians as well as the Adirondacks and is finishing a project on using native plants for bitters and cordials.
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