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 W. Bush or Ira Glass or Barack Obama. It's pretty darn difficult to stump Tim. Want proof? Check out Tim Russell: Man of a Thousand Voices, a CD collection of favorite moments from his work on APHC. On film, his roles include the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman movie A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man. 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.
Fred Newman first learned to spin tales and scatter sounds from great storytellers in small-town Georgia. Today, he is an actor, writer, musician, composer, and sound designer for stage, screen, cartoon, and concert hall. He is also the sound-effects guy for A Prairie Home Companion. Author of the book MouthSounds, he has appeared on TV shows including Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street, Disney's New Mickey Mouse Club, and public television's Between the Lions. His recent projects range from the debut of his first symphony in San Francisco to imagining, for the National Park Service, the sound of Old Faithful from five miles below to surface eruption — all done with his mouth.
Originally from Minnesota, singer/actress Kate Beahen grew up in a tight-knit community of musicians, composers, and actors. After earning a degree in music theater from Florida State University, she was off to New York, where she spent several years putting together cabarets and collaborating with new composers. But once a Midwesterner always a Midwesterner — Kate has now returned to Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis. She performs at a variety of Twin Cities-area venues, including Lyric Arts, Theatre Latté Da, Minnesota Orchestra, and The Guthrie.
Describing Lee Blaske as a keyboardist is a considerable understatement. He is a composer, orchestrator, producer, and multi-instrumentalist who is always in demand for projects of all kinds. Normally engaged in writing and recording music for commercials, TV shows, and news themes, he has also collaborated with many Twin Cities jazz groups, and his orchestrations are found on albums by Janet Jackson, Sounds of Blackness, and many others. And on occasion, he leaves the safety of his Minneapolis studio to perform in front of live audiences.
Pianist Freddie Brown studies at London's Royal Academy of Music and previously graduated from St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, earning the Peter le Huray Prize for academic achievement. He performs widely as chamber musician and accompanist. Recent appearances include a program of 20th-century clarinet repertoire with Joseph Shiner at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Brahms and Beethoven sonatas with violinist Jamie Campbell, and Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time at the St. Endellion Summer Festival. Also a conductor and repetiteur, he was engaged as assistant conductor for Iford Arts' 2013 production of La Traviata, and in the same role for Royal Academy Opera's recent production of Massenet's Cendrillon.
Acclaimed as "the premier men's vocal ensemble in the United States" (Fanfare), Cantus is known worldwide for its engaging performances of music ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the group's more than 70 concerts each year have taken them from the Kennedy Center to stages in Oman and Dubai. One of the nation's few full-time men's ensembles, Cantus is the recipient of numerous awards, including Chorus America's highest honor, the Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence (2009), as well as Chorus America's Education Outreach Award (2011). Integral to the Cantus mission is its commitment to preserve and deepen music education in the schools. Cantus has released 16 albums. The latest is 2013's Song of a Czech.
The Los Angeles Times has called Karan Casey's voice "as pure and clear as the crystal from County Waterford, where she was born." She spent her childhood singing with her family and with the church choir, before studying voice and piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. After courses in jazz at Long Island University–Brooklyn, she joined the celebrated Irish-American band Solas and then embarked on a solo career. These days, the award-winning vocalist makes her home in County Cork. Her latest CD, Two More Hours, draws on Karan's lifelong love of R&B, jazz and blues in creating a vibrant new mix of sounds.
Pianist/accordionist Dan Chouinard is a Twin Cities native who regularly creates special programs that blend history and music. Among these is Café Europa, about a bicycle trip Dan took from Naples to Normandy — accordion strapped to his bike — in search of Minnesota World War II stories. More recently, his documentary musical Steerage Song reflected on the thousands of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dan's recordings include In Our Little Paradise: Songs of P.G. Wodehouse, with soprano Maria Jette, plus albums with Peter Ostroushko, Prudence Johnson, the Rose Ensemble and others.
Canadian/British soprano Eve Daniell is pursuing a Master of Music degree at London's Royal Academy of Music. Among her performance credits are Witch and Mother in Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel with Pacific Opera Victoria's Young Artist Program, and Sorceress in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (Albery/Mallon) with Opera on the Avalon. She has appeared as a soloist with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Victoria Summer Choir, the Barton Turf Choral Society, and other ensembles. Her 2014 schedule includes singing the role of Fiordiligi in Pop-up Opera's production of Mozart's Così fan tutte and making her solo debut in the Kohn Foundation/Royal Academy of Music Bach Cantata series.
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.
Texas-born Bob Douglas has lived in Minnesota since his college days. During that time, he worked with acoustic ensembles and jug bands, performing at coffeehouses on Minneapolis' fabled West Bank. Music became a full-time vocation in Germany when he teamed up with a Canadian group called The String Band, completing three European tours and two recording projects. In the early years of A Prairie Home Companion, Bob did mandolin duties and played spoons in the show's house bands, the Powdermilk Biscuit Band and the New Prairie Ramblers. These days, he is Chair of the Sustainability Committee at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, but he still finds time for music, including playing with the Show'd Up Band and the Tune Jerks.
Tenor Richard Dowling is currently studying at London's Royal Academy of Music. During his time there, he has performed role of Le Prince in Massenet's Cendrillon, and he regularly appears as a soloist for the Academy's acclaimed Bach Cantata Series. He also performed as Selimo in Garsington Opera's production of Rossini's Maometto II. He has a particular affinity for the music of Benjamin Britten, and won the song prize in last year's Hampshire Singing Competition for his rendition of Britten's Canticle I. In addition, Richard holds a Ph.D. in the field of crystallisation.
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).
Forty years ago, guitarist Adam Granger moved from his native Oklahoma to Minnesota, where he became a charter member of the Powdermilk Biscuit Band, A Prairie Home Companion's first house band. He continues to be a frequent guest on the show. He's written books and articles on music in general and flatpick guitar technique in particular. Granger's Fiddle Tunes for Guitar, a book-CD set, is the largest collection of fiddle tunes in guitar tablature in the world. A Minnesota Bluegrass Guitarist of the Year, Adam has served as a judge at the International Flatpick Guitar Contest in Winfield, Kansas, as well as doing judging duties for the Minnesota Flatpick Guitar Contest. His 16 albums include Dapple Patti (with banjoist Alan Munde) and Fiddle and Guitar (with fiddler Anni Spring).
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.
Since 2010, Minnesota-based multi-instrumentalist Richard Kriehn has been playing with The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band on A Prairie Home Companion. He has also performed in symphony orchestras, bluegrass bands, baroque ensembles, pit orchestras, cover bands, and country bands. While living in Nashville, he toured with Travis Tritt, Aaron Tippin, and Michael Peterson, all the while, playing in the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and the bluegrass group 1946. He made numerous appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, and you may have caught him on Prime Time Country — or even an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. Prior to moving to the Twin Cities, Richard and his family lived in Eastern Washington where he was a faculty member in the School of Music, Washington State University.
Kustbandet (in English, "The Coast Band") is a 12-piece jazz ensemble from Stockholm, Sweden, whose renditions of hot tunes from the 1920s and '30s have enthralled fans for some 50 years. They formed in the early 1960s, inspired by the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and other greats. With their performance at the 1973 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, they earned an international reputation and have toured regularly ever since — from Lapland to Sydney, Tokyo to the Crescent City. The Man From Harlem and Blue Rhythm Fantasy (Sittel Records) are two of their many recordings. It is said that in one of his last letters, Satchmo himself wrote that he wanted to sit in with Kustbandet. Enough said.
Composer, arranger, producer, guitarist Dean Magraw has honed his style of music through years of playing with some of the finest musicians in the United States and Europe. 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 several dazzling albums, including his latest, Reservoir (Acoustic Music Records), a collaboration with renowned Hungarian guitarist Sándor Szabó. ECM recording artist Steve Tibbetts aptly described Dean's music 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 last 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.
Born in 1989 in Göttingen, Germany, baritone Marian Müller is currently studying at the conservatory in Frankfurt am Main with Prof. Berthold Possemeyer. He has received scholarships from Region Hannover and Live Music Now. He was the 2008 winner of the Schrader-Prize and has been a finalist in international singing competitions, including Schubert und die Musik der Moderne (Graz, 2012) and the Mendelssohn-Wettbewerb (Berlin, 2014). With an extensive repertoire in lied and oratorio, he is frequently employed throughout Germany. In 2015, he makes his professional operatic debut in Carl Orff's Der Mond at the Staatstheater Kassel.
Songwriter and vocalist Aoife O'Donovan grew up in a musical family in Massachusetts. In her teens, she took an interest in the American folk tradition, and after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, she formed the progressive bluegrass band Crooked Still and the trio Sometymes Why. The stunning versatility of her voice has led to collaborations across a wide variety of genres, including a role as vocalist on the Grammy-winning Goat Rodeo Sessions alongside Chris Thile, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan. Her debut solo album, Fossils, was released in 2013 on the Yep Roc label.
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.
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.
German mezzo-soprano Marie Seidler currently studies in Frankfurt with Prof. Hedwig Fassbender and previously studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her work in Germany and England as a solo performer includes J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor, a live recording of the baroque opera Il Narciso by F.A. Pistocchi, and as part of the Handel Festival in London. In 2012, she made her opera debut in the title role of Ravel's opera L'Enfant et les sortilèges at the Oper Aachen. Marie regularly gives recitals, including a performance in honor of Sir Georg Solti's 100th birthday.
Peter Sheppard Skærved
Violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved is a Grammy-nominated soloist who regularly plays in more than 30 countries worldwide. He is the dedicatee of well over 300 works by composers including Hans Werner Henze, George Rochberg, and David Matthews. He has recorded some 70 discs of concertos, solo violin works, and chamber music, including groundbreaking cycles of Tartini, Telemann, Reicha, and Beethoven. He regularly appears as soloist/speaker at the Library of Congress, and he is the only musician to have curated an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, London. He is the Viotti Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music.
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.
Pianist and clarinetist Butch Thompson has earned a reputation the world over as a traditional jazz and ragtime master. Born in Marine-on-St. Croix, Minnesota, he was playing Christmas carols on his mother's upright piano by age three. 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. In the decades since, 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 Vicksburg Blues, a collaboration with guitarist Pat Donohue.
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.
Stephen R. de Angelis
Russian scholar Stephen R. de Angelis was born and raised in New York City and now resides in Palm Beach, Florida, and St. Petersburg, Russia. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Classical Languages from Fordham University and worked in the business world for 25 years before returning to Petersburg State University in Russia to earn his Ph.D. in Russian Imperial History in 1999. He has lectured widely on the reign of Nicholas II and has translated the extant diaries of Nicholas II, the 1917-1918 diaries of his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and, most recently, the diaries of his mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Galitzine Library in St. Petersburg, an Advisory Board member of the Hermitage Foundation, as well as a member of the House of Scholars in St. Petersburg.
"I'm a historian; I don't do dates," Annette Atkins likes to say. She writes, teaches, and publishes history that looks for the stories and souls of people who lived in the past. What did they hope for, dream about, fear, and fight? How were their lives like our own and how different? She is a professor emerita from College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Minnesota. Her books include We Grew Up Together: Brothers and Sisters in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Illinois Press) and Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out (Minnesota Historical Society Press).
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. The destination ports for this Prairie Home Cruise have strong traditions of wool and knitting, and there are many, many yarn shops just waiting to be discovered. Kim's classes will provide lots of inspiration for novice knitter and "dyed-in-the-wool" expert alike!
Paul Daniels' interest in Nordic art and design began at an early age through museum visits and conversations with his father, an engineer by training and an avid fan of contemporary visual arts and modern design. It helped that both sides of the family were proud of their Norwegian heritage (they admit to being one-eighth Swedish) and promoted an awareness of Scandinavian aesthetics. Paul's nearly 30-year career as archivist and arts curator at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota — working with Scandinavian-American historical materials as well as a large religious art collection — has further fueled his passion for the cultural contributions of the Nordic nations.
Joy Davina and Todd Paulus
Joy Davina and Todd Paulus are from 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.
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.
Erica Rhodes is known to many for her role as Sandy in more than 200 webisodes of the popular Web series Upstairs Girls. She has also appeared in commercials, podcasts, and motion pictures including Go West, Javatown, Plague Town, Waiting for Dracula, and Big Sky. She produced and starred in the award-winning short film Posey, about a young woman who takes her Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother to a nursing home. Erica is a regular at the Comedy Store, the popular California club that has featured up-and-coming and seasoned comics since 1972.
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.
Jon A. Wiant
Jon A. Wiant has more than three decades in the business of foreign intelligence/espionage — in both hot wars and cold wars and a few sub-war dust-ups. He has served in senior positions at the Departments of State and Defense, the CIA, and the White House. Some colleagues characterize him as a mission-driven man of sharp judgment and analytical acuity; others recall his love for complicated practical jokes and raucous humor. Whatever the mixture, the Director of Central Intelligence presented him with the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the highest recognition for a guy in the espionage business. Jon joins us to cast an intriguing light on the Baltic capitals — playgrounds of spies.
Naturalist Rich MacDonald fancies himself a bird nerd. Wherever you fall on the birding spectrum, from casual interest to globe-trotting life-lister, Rich will help you see something new. He has long been involved in ecological and ornithological research spanning much of the western Atlantic, from the Dominican Republic to Newfoundland (and New York's Adirondack Mountains, too). He has also taught ornithology and lead nature tours around the world, including Antarctica. Rich has been on hand for all seven of the Prairie Home cruises, helping passengers discover local birds and rack up impressive lists of species. Along with his wife, Natalie Springuel, he operates The Natural History Center, a bird and nature tour business and retail store based 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. She has led thousands of visitors on ocean and coastal adventures, by land and by sea. Natalie has been part of the team on all the Prairie Home Companion Cruises except Norway, when daughter Anouk was only two months old. As a child, Natalie spent several summers on the shores of the North Sea, and she's thrilled to be heading back to that part of the world.
Lytton Musselman is, by his own admission, a man who loves plants. 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. He is author of The Quick Guide to Edible Plants with Harold Wiggins (Johns Hopkins University Press), and he is working on books on plants of the Adirondacks and on using native plants for bitters and cordials. Dr. Musselman has lived and worked in several Middle East countries, studying plants of the Bible and Qur'an, and is an invited contributor to the Second Qur'anic Garden Forum in Qatar. He has been nominated for a Fulbright award at the University of Brunei Darussalam, where he will lecture on ethnobotany and continue his collaborative work there in the Borneo rain forest.
Visit our journal of daily updates to see the highlights from this year's cruise — including videos, photos and notes — or relive your time aboard the ms Ryndam »