Saturday, April 12, 2008
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.
She started out wanting to be a jazz musician. Now when singer, songwriter, actor, stand-up comedian and activist Nellie McKay sits down at the piano or picks up the ukulele, you're likely hear some blend of jazz, pop, hip-hop, cabaret or vaudeville. The London-born, New York-based performer — who spent her teenage years in the Poconos — has found quite a following with her quirky musical approach. She's nothing if not outspoken, and the causes she holds dear — animal rights, for instance — are apt to turn up in her unpredictable song lyrics. Her 2004 debut CD was called Get Away from Me — a play on the title of Norah Jones' Come Away with Me. Her latest recording is Obligatory Villagers (Hungry Mouse).
Metropolitan Opera tenor Raúl Melo is a celebrated performer in the US, Europe and Asia. Havana-born and U.S.-educated, he has sung principal roles with major opera companies worldwide. In 2005-2006, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as the Duke in Rigoletto. The following season found him performing the role of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and in a live broadcast from Symphony Space - both with the New York City Opera. In the 2007-2008 season, his performances include Cavaradossi in Tosca with the New York City Opera and as the tenor soloist in the Verdi Requiem with the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Later this spring, he will appear at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, singing the part of the Navigator in the Anthony Davis opera Amistad. Michael Recchiuti is at the piano.
Chris Thile first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1996. He was 15 and had already been playing mandolin for 10 years. These days, fresh from a phenomenal run with the trio Nickel Creek, Chris leads Punch Brothers, whose recording Punch was recently released on Nonesuch Records.
Kathy Roach, Writer's Almanac/APHC Correspondence
Write a letter to A Prairie Home Companion and chances are you'll hear back from Kathy Roach, who handles listener mail. She also works with publishers and poets to make sure permissions are granted and credits are given for material used on APHC and The Writer's Almanac. A true child of the prairie, Kathy was raised in a small — and largely Norwegian — Iowa town. She tended Holsteins on the family farm, went to a one-room school, and once reigned as Queen of the Furrow. Every summer, her flower garden — breathtaking lilies and myriad hosta varieties — is the talk of the office. And when she's not sending notes or pulling weeds, Kathy and her husband keep busy attending their sons' and grandkids' cultural and athletic events.
The Town Hall
"Not a bad seat in the house." That's been The Town Hall's motto almost from the beginning, when a group of suffragists hired architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to build a hall for their organization, the League for Political Education. The design had no box seats and no columns to obstruct anyone's view. Hence, the slogan. Since its opening on January 12, 1921, this building has seen its share of stunning performances and historic controversy. Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay made her public debut here, as did singer Marian Anderson. Birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger was arrested and carted off the stage during a speech. There were lectures by Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt and countless others, in addition to 20 years' worth of American Town Meetings of the Air radio broadcasts, launched by NBC in 1935. Performers from Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan, Ruth St. Denis to Ravi Shankar have entertained Town Hall audiences - more than eight decades of music and dance and ideas. And still not a bad seat in the house.
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).