Special Guests
Saturday, December 31, 2005

Butch Thompson

For 12 years of his four-decade career, Butch Thompson was the house pianist on A Prairie Home Companion, dating back to the show's second broadcast in July 1974. As a soloist, he has earned a worldwide reputation as a master of ragtime, stride and classic jazz piano. Described by Jazz Journal International as "the premier player in traditional jazz today," Thompson also performs with his well-known trio, his eight-piece New Orleans Jazz Originals, and with symphony orchestras, including the Hartford Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Cairo (Egypt) Symphony. Thompson's first recording, Butch Thompson Plays Jelly Roll Morton Piano Solos, has been re-issued as a Biograph CD. His latest recordings are Butch Thompson's Big Three: 'Tain't Nobody's Business (Jazzology Records), featuring Butch on piano, Duke Heitger on trumpet, and Jimmy Mazzy on banjo and vocals; and At First Light (Turnagain Music), in which Butch teams up with the Miami Philharmonic and conductor Gordon Wright for a program of originals by Wright.

Duke Heitger

In 1991, trumpeter Duke Heitger left Toledo and went to New Orleans to join Jacques Gauthé's Creole Rice Jazz Band. Since then he has become one of the most sought-after players on the international jazz scene. As a youngster Duke was fascinated with his dad's record collection, discs by Louis Armstrong, Bunny Berrigan, Red Allen, Bobby Hackett and Bix Beiderbecke. He'd sit in with his father's Cake Walkin' Jass Band, a Toledo institution. By the time he was 12, he was playing professional jobs, and he began touring while still in his teens. Since moving to New Orleans, he's worked with bands led by such classic jazz stalwarts as Dick Hyman, James Dapogny, Butch Thompson and Banu Gibson. He has recorded four compact discs as a leader: Duke Heitger's Steamboat Stompers (GHB Records); Rhythm is our Business (Fantasy); Prince of Wails (Stomp Off); and most recently Duke Heitger's Krazy Kapers on the Jazzology label.

Howard Levy

Howard Levy plays piano, sax, Chinese flute and a bunch of other instruments. But he is perhaps best known for taking the standard diatonic harmonica into territory where no one expects it to go, covering the entire musical scale. Anyone who has ever picked up a little Hohner Marine Band can appreciate the feat; the rest of us just enjoy the music. Howard was raised in Brooklyn and in the part of Queens known as Rockaway Beach, where the movie Radio Days was filmed. He studied piano and theory at the Manhattan School of Music for four years, then studied pipe organ for two years. In 1969 he continued his schooling at Northwestern University, where played in the jazz band. He has lived in the Chicago area since 1972. He was a founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and is currently leading two bands in Chicago. He has contributed to hundreds of CDs and won a Grammy in 1997. In 2005, he released three new CDs on his own Balkan Samba Records label: Howard Levy & Paul Sprawl, Cappuccino (with violinist Fox Fehling), and Secret Dream with the band Cheveré de Chicago.

Prudence Johnson

Prudence Johnson's career in music has taken her from stage (honky-tonks to Carnegie Hall) to silver screen (Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It). As one music critic put it, "[There's] not a genre she hasn't interpreted with her ducky, sensual alto voice and terminally good taste." Her 10 album releases include Moon Country, featuring the music of Hoagy Carmichael, and 'S Gershwin with pianist Dan Chouinard. Collaborating with four Minnesota composers, she created A Girl Named Vincent, the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay set to music and scheduled for CD release. Prudence also appears on (and produced) a new recording of Gales of November, the concert version of the play Ten November, chronicling the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. The CD is on the Sleeper label.

Jearlyn Steele

A native of Indiana, Jearlyn Steele first sang with her siblings (as The Steele Children) in churches, concert halls and on radio and television. After Jearlyn left home to attend the University of Minnesota, one by one the rest of the Steele kids followed, and they started singing together again as The Steeles. Now music is the family business. Fans still remember their participation in The Gospel at Colonus at the Guthrie Theater and on Broadway. Jearlyn has voiced many local and national commercials, and she has recorded with top acts including George Clinton and Prince. Her most recent CD is titled Steele Praising Him. Jearlyn Steele hosts Steele Talkin', a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis and is heard in some 30 states nationwide.

Billy Collins

"Billy Collins writes lovely poems," John Updike has said. He does indeed. Collins was twice appointed United States Poet Laureate, and since January 2004, he has been the New York State Poet Laureate. His collections of poetry include Questions About Angels; The Art of Drowning; Picnic, Lightning; Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes; Sailing Alone Around the Room: New & Selected Poems; Nine Horses and-his most recent—The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems (Random House). He also edited two anthologies of contemporary poetry: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, The American Scholar, Harper's and many other magazines. Collins' honors include the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize and the Levinson Prize-all awarded by Poetry magazine. In 1992, the New York Public Library chose him to serve as a Literary Lion. He has been a writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College, and for more than three decades, he has been a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York. In October 2004, he was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Poetry Foundation's Mark Twain Award for humor in poetry.

Sally Dworsky

Sally Dworsky grew up in musical St. Paul family. She remembers being a very young child and falling asleep underneath the piano while her older brother Rich-now A Prairie Home Companion's music director-practiced. These days, Sally makes her home in the Los Angeles area, where she's fronted her own band, been a member of the band Uma, and recorded and toured with the likes of R.E.M., Peter Gabriel and Don Henley. Her singing voice is also heard in the leading roles for such animated films as Shrek, Prince of Egypt and The Lion King. Her most recent album—songs by Tom Waits, Loudon Wainwright, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Irving Berlin and others-was recorded with Rich Dworsky. It's called Start It All Over Again (Inner Vista Records).

Dan Chouinard

Pianist and accordion ace Dan Chouinard performs and records with Prudence Johnson, Peter Ostroushko, Maria Jette and many other Prairie Home favorites. For six years he conducted The Singer's Voice, a radio show where he interviewed singers from his post at the piano. Over the years, he hosted more than 200 guests on that program. This former teacher of French and Italian has toured Europe extensively by bicycle, carrying little more than a tent and an accordion. "A wonderful way to travel," he says, "especially if you keep the accordion to a manageable size." In May of 2005, he drew on his travel adventures to create a musical evening called Café Europa. The show played to a wildly enthusiastic audience at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater and was later broadcast on the stations of Minnesota Public Radio. Dan also serves as a music director at the Church of Saint Joan of Arc in Minneapolis.

Maria Jette

In addition to her 45-plus operatic roles, soprano Maria Jette has performed pop songs, chamber music, oratorio and more. She has appeared with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra, and with the Symphonies of Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Charlotte, Santa Rosa and Buffalo. She frequently collaborates with VocalEssence (formerly the Plymouth Music Series), the Handel Choir of Baltimore, the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. She has been a regular guest at the Oregon Bach, Victoria Bach and San Luis Obispo Mozart Festivals and the Oregon Festival of American Music. With the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Maria starred as the "Mrs." in the May 2002 premiere of Garrison Keillor's opera, Mr. and Mrs. Olson. She has performed her own production of Dr. Seuss and Robert Kapilow's Green Eggs & Ham for more than 25,000 kids coast to coast.

Suzanne Ohlmann

Nebraska-born soprano Suzanne Ohlmann moved to New York in August of 2001 to pursue a career in the arts. She studied conducting for a semester at Juilliard, while she did various jobs-orchestra manager, orchestra librarian, etc.-at the school. Other music-related projects came and went, among them advisor to New York's Eos Orchestra and assistant conductor and orchestra manager for two summers at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. But Suzanne felt that something was missing. She began to re-evaluate, thinking about going into nursing and perhaps spending sometime overseas. Then a chance meeting gave her the opportunity to work with a foundation in Juanga, India. She left the day after Christmas, 2004, and spent 2005 working in the village school, assisting in the operating theater and helping at the women's clinic. Now back in the U.S., Suzanne is beginning her education to become a nurse, and she continues to perform both as a soloist and in ensemble settings.

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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