Special Guests
Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hopeful Gospel Quartet

As the Hopeful Gospel Quartet (Garrison Keillor, Robin and Linda Williams, and Carol Elizabeth Jones) explains it, the group "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." Now, countless gigs (and a couple of personnel changes) later, they are still finding great four-part harmonies in stairwells and on stages across the country.

Singing the music they love—be it bluegrass, folk, old-time, or acoustic country—Robin and Linda Williams have carved out a three-decade career that has taken them from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. They've have written dozens of terrific songs, ones that have been covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, Tim & Mollie O'Brien, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, and The Seldom Scene. Robin and Linda's latest CDs are Deeper Waters and The First Christmas Gift, both on Red House Records.

Carol Elizabeth Jones hails from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She has made her mark as a singer of traditional mountain music and as a writer of new songs in the old tradition. She has recorded several acclaimed albums of original material. Ridin' Along (Yodel-Ay-Hee Records), released in 2005, is a collection of classic country and bluegrass duets with Laurel Bliss.

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.

Janine Brémault

Vocalist Janine Brémault is a student at the University of Minnesota, where she is working on master's degree in voice performance. She was born and raised in Winnipeg and attended the University of Manitoba. In Canada, she sang with the Winnipeg Gilbert and Sullivan Society and was a chorus member of the Manitoba Opera. In addition, she did community theater, performed in shows at the University of Manitoba and at Winnipeg's Rainbow Stage.

Andy Stein

Violinist and saxophonist Andy Stein collaborated with Garrison Keillor to create the opera Mr. and Mrs. Olson. He has appeared on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with David Letterman, and has performed with artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Eric Clapton, Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Joel, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan.

Bella Hristova

Violinist Bella Hristova was born in Pleven, Bulgaria, to musical parents-her mother was a school choral conductor and piano teacher, her father a composer-and began playing violin when she was 6. She came to the United States in 1999, at age 13, and started her studies with Stephen Shipps at the Meadowmount School of Music in New York. That year, she won First Prize at the International Enesco Competition in Bucharest, Romania. One month later, she won the Grand Prize in the Michigan American String Teachers Competition. She continued musical studies with Shipps at the University of Michigan School of Music while completing high school in Ann Arbor. At the International Kocian Competition in the Czech Republic, judges awarded her First Prize in 2000 and the sweep of Grand Prize, European Union Prize and Barenreiter Prize in 2001. Her repertoire stretches from Bach to the latest contemporary compositions. Favorites include 19th- and 20th-century Russian works. In September 2003, Bella entered Curtis Institute of Music, where she studies violin with Ida Kavafian and chamber music with Steve Tenenbom.

Adrienne Young

Adrienne Young's career has taken off. It was only a couple years ago that she won first place in Merlefest's bluegrass songwriting contest. The Clearwater, Florida, native certainly has the right gene pool. Her grandfather still plays in a bluegrass band; her grandmother plays mandolin and banjo, and her mother pursued a career as a country singer. In the late 1990s, Adrienne moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University, then worked temp jobs on Music Row while trying to get a foothold in the music business. In 2004 she released her debut CD, Plow to the End of the Row. Her latest recording is The Art of Virtue, on the Addie Belle label. The album was inspired in part by Ben Franklin's list of Thirteen Virtues (justice, frugality and humility, to name three). Young comments, "I had been reading a lot of Franklin's works and came across a passage in his autobiography where he offered an idea for the United Party of Virtue. It would be a new political party where there wouldn't be any kind of affiliation other than anybody who was a member would have to exhibit a character that was the highest quality and ... devote his or her life to the greater good."

Robert Sonkowsky

Robert Sonkowsky is a University of Minnesota Professor Emeritus of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, who has published widely on ancient and later rhetoric. He is also a gifted actor who's been seen in on many Twin Cities stages, including the Guthrie Lab, the Lyric Theatre (at Minneapolis Theatre Garage), and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. He has appeared in numerous commercials (Northwest Airlines, Snyder Drug, Best Buy Stores, to name a few) and in industrial films for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, AT&T, 3M, Mayo Clinic, and other corporations.

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.

Prudence Johnson

That silky alto and striking style — you'd expect to find Prudence Johnson singing at a high-tone nightspot. And you might. But be it a concert hall, a little jazz club or A Prairie Home Companion, Pru is the perfect complement. 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. On the silver screen, she appeared in Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It, and in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion. On the music front, a new CD of French songs — pop to classical — with accordionist Dan Chouinard is in the works for later this year.

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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