The Hopeful Gospel Quartet

Left to Right: Garrison Keillor, Linda Williams,
Kate MacKenzie, Robin Williams

THE HOPEFUL GOSPEL QUARTET'S NEWEST recording is Climbing Up on the Rough Side, on the HighBridge label. Their only other CD is Garrison Keillor & the Hopeful Gospel Quartet (1992, Sony Music Entertainment).

"The Hopeful Gospel Quartet began its career backstage at Prairie Home shows, when we stood waiting for the balloon to go up and sang to pass the time and found out that we all like gospel songs and that they sound wonderful in a stairwell. We each had other fish to fry - Kate was playing Sheila the Christian Jungle Girl in "The Adventures of Buster the Show Dog" - and Robin and Linda were carrying on their busy duet business and Mr. Keillor was, of course, The Prairie Home announcer, but sometimes these little things that you do while waiting for the balloon to go up turn out to be memorable. And perhaps that's how the Spirit works. Since those days, the Hopefuls have toured with Chet Atkins, performed at Carnegie Hall and Radio City and the Universal Amphitheatre and at the mammoth Prairie Home Hymn-Singing Festival in Moorhead, Minnesota. But at heart we are still a stairwell quartet, searching for the sound. Radio City had a great booming stairway, the Fox Theatre in St. Louis had a good one, and also the Flynn in Burlington, Vermont. Somewhere in backstage America, we feel, the Spirit had a stairway for us, with the exact perfect landing with the right plaster walls and just the right angles. When you sing in a great stairwell, it doesn't feel as if the music comes out of you as much as it comes through you, and that is the true gospel vision: to be an instrument. We're still looking, and we remain hopeful."
-The Hopeful Gospel Quartet

Garrison Keillor was born in 1942 in Anoka, Minnesota, and began his radio career as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, from which he graduated in 1966. He went to work for Minnesota Public Radio in 1969, and on July 6, 1974, he hosted the first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion in St. Paul. (The show ended in 1987, resumed in 1989 in New York as The American Radio Company, returned to Minnesota, and in 1993 resumed the name A Prairie Home Companion.) It is now heard each week by more than two million listeners on more than 430 public radio stations. Keillor hosts a daily five-minute radio program, The Writer's Almanac, is a frequent contributor to Time and The Atlantic Monthly, and the author of ten books, including Lake Wobegon Days (1985), The Book of Guys (1993), and The Old Man Who Loved Cheese (1996). His newest book is Wobegon Boy (1997).

Keillor's recording of Lake Wobegon Days received a Grammy Award; he received two ACE Awards for cable television and a George Foster Peabody Award. In 1994, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame at Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communications. With Philip Brunelle, he has performed with many orchestras, including the Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Dallas, and National symphonies; he has appeared at Wolf Trap, Carnegie Hall, and other major concert halls as a member of The Hopeful Gospel Quartet; and he has performed on his own in one-man shows across the country and in tour broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion.

Kate MacKenzie has been a favorite guest of A Prairie Home Companion since 1981. For many years, she was lead singer of Stoney Lonesome, with whom she recorded six bluegrass albums, toured Europe, Japan and North America, and was featured in the public television series Showcase and the Nashville Network's Fire on the Mountain. With the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, MacKenzie has recorded a live album from Carnegie Hall, performed at folk festivals in Scotland and Denmark, and was featured on PBS' Austin City Limits. The Hopeful Gospel Quartet's newest recording is Climbing Up on the Rough Side, on the HighBridge label. MacKenzie's work with A Prairie Home Companion has included co-host roles in several Prairie Home broadcasts, coast-to-coast tours, farewell and reunion shows, 20 Disney Channel television broadcasts, the 1993 Book of Guys tour, and a recurring dramatic role as Sheila, the Christian Jungle girl (wild, yet pure). MacKenzie's first solo album, Let Them Talk (Red House Records), received enthusiastic reviews and was on the National Bluegrass Charts for 10 months. A second solo album, Age of Innocence (Red House), was released last fall and earned MacKenzie a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album. MacKenzie's success was noted in The New York Times, which grouped her in "the new wave of strong female voices."

Robin and Linda Williams have been frequent guests on A Prairie Home Companion since 1976. They performed on the second and third Prairie Home Companion Reunion Tours and on A Prairie Home Companion's broadcasts from Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and the Universal Amphitheater. Beyond A Prairie Home Companion, the Williamses have made numerous television appearances: on the Nashville Network's Fire on the Mountain, Nashville Now, and Music City Tonight. And the duo has been heard on other nationwide radio programs: the Grand Ole Opry has welcomed Robin and Linda Williams as guests, as have Mountain Stage and NPR's All Things Considered. With more than a dozen recordings and three musicals to their credit, they are considered to be among the finest songwriters in the folk-country tradition. Their most recent albums include: Sugar for Sugar, on the Sugar Hill label; and Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group-Live, Sugar Hill's re-release of Strictly Country Records' recording, Live in Holland. A new album, Devil of a Dream (Sugar Hill), was released this year. The harmonies of Robin and Linda Williams can also be heard on Mary Chapin Carpenter's album, Stones in the Road, and on Iris DeMent's Warner Bros. recording, My Life. As part of the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, the duo recorded a live album from Carnegie Hall (produced by Chet Atkins, on Sony Records), toured across the United States and Europe, and been featured on PBS' Austin City Limits.

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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