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Mindy Smith grew up in Smithtown, Long Island. Her dad was a minister, Her mom was an accomplished singer who led the church choir — and who always encouraged Mindy to follow her interest in music. While she was in college in Cincinnati, Mindy wrote songs and sang in a band. Finally, she decided to make a go of it in Nashville. She arrived with $300 in her pocket and a whole lot of determination. A few years later, she won first prize in the Tin Pan South songwriting contest of 2000. That led to a staff position at the publishing company Big Yellow Dog Music, which allowed her to earn a living writing songs for other people. Mindy’s career really took off after she sang the song "Jolene" for a Dolly Parton tribute album in 2003. The next year, she released her debut album, One Moment More. And she followed that with a CD called Long Island Shores. Mindy is also a gifted painter. She is a bold colorist who does expressive, figurative works. Her latest recording is titled Stupid Love. It was released last month on the Vanguard label.
Growing up in Aledo, Illinois, Suzy Bogguss loved music. She joined the church choir, played the piano and drums, and bought her first 12-string with the money she earned from babysitting. Now, more than a dozen albums later, and awards ranging from the Academy of Country Music's Top New Female Vocalist of 1989 to a Horizon Award given by the Country Music Association, Suzy has won acclaim in both country and contemporary music circles. Her new CD is Sweet Danger (Loyal Dutchess Records).
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 and moved to 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 Hymn. She is the entertainment reporter for Twin Cities Public Television's public-affairs program, Almanac, and she hosts Steele Talkin', a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis and is heard in some 30 states nationwide.
Becky Schlegel took piano lessons all through her childhood. She sang in choir and, while still in junior high, she joined her mother's professional country band, The Country Benders. Then a college friend gave Becky Schlegel three Reno and Smiley albums, and the die was cast: She became addicted to bluegrass music. She left South Dakota, her home state, and moved to Minnesota. That was a dozen years ago, and since then, Becky has become a big favorite in the Upper Midwest's bluegrass, country and acoustic rock scenes. Becky formed the band True Blue in 1997. The following year, they released their debut CD, This Lonesome Song, which was nominated for 1998 Bluegrass Recording of the Year by the Minnesota Music Academy. The group then won Minnesota's Bluegrass Band of the Year award for 2000. Becky's second CD, Red Leaf, came out in 2001. That year, Becky was awarded Bluegrass/Old-Time Artist of the Year at the Minnesota Music Awards. She repeated the honor in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Becky's most recent CD is 2005's Drifter Like Me. A new album, For All the World to See (Lilly Ray Records), is scheduled for release later this summer. Brian Fesler is Becky's accompanist.
In the dozen or so years that Tonic Sol-fa has been together, this Minnesota-based a cappella quartet has earned a national reputation and built a fan base coast to coast. Tenor Greg Bannwarth, bass Jared Dove, lead singer Shaun Johnson, and baritone Mark McGowan now do about 150 concerts a year across the country, but the group began in the mid-1990s at St. John's University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, where McGowan and Johnson were going to school. Soon Bannwarth and Dove signed on. Tonic Sol-fa has now released a half-dozen CDs. Their brand-new recording, Christmas, is a companion to the DVD of their public television holiday special.
When Del McCoury was growing up in York County, Pennsylvania, he learned music from his mother, Hazel, a church organist who also played guitar, piano and harmonica. And he never missed a chance to tune in to the Grand Ole Opry. But when his older brother bought a 78-rpm record of Flatt and Scruggs, that was it. Del started playing bluegrass and, a half-century later, has never looked back. In 1963, Bill Monroe asked McCoury to play in his band, The Blue Grass Boys. He played guitar and sang lead vocals with Monroe and traveled with him for a year before quitting the band and getting married. After a brief stint in California with the Golden State Boys, McCoury ended up back in Pennsylvania, working at a sawmill and playing music on weekends. As his boys got older, they began playing with their dad in his band, the Dixie Pals. Ronnie joined the band in 1981 and Rob followed in 1988. The Del McCoury Band formed in the early 1990s. The group has won numerous honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association's (IBMA), including being named Entertainer of the Year eight times (nine, if you include Del's solo win). This year, after six nominations since 1983, the Del McCoury Band won a Grammy Award for their 2005 album The Company We Keep (McCoury Music). A new, all-gospel album, The Promised Land, will be released later this year. The band: Del McCoury, guitar; Ronnie McCoury, mandolin; Rob McCoury, banjo; Jason Carter, fiddle; Alan Bartram, bass.
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers and others. Freewayman (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's nine albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band, Sammy Davis Jr. with whom he toured for several years and the Minnesota Klezmer Band. He teaches jazz bass at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.
Originally from Cloquet, Minnesota, pedal steel player Joe Savage made his way to Minneapolis in the 1980s. These days, he is a fixture on the Twin Cities music scene, performing with a number of artists in addition to keeping up his work as a studio musician.
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).