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Tenor Vern Sutton grew up in Oklahoma City. He remembers being applauded for the first time in first grade — for his performance in the role of Baby Bear in Goldilocks. From that day on, he was hooked on show business. Sutton first met Garrison Keillor when they both were students at the University of Minnesota. Sutton went on to spend 36 years as a faculty member at the U of M School of Music. He directed the opera program at the university, and he served as director of the School of Music. In addition to his work on campus, Sutton appeared with many major orchestras, opera companies, and musical groups and earned an international reputation for his work with the BBC, the New Opera Theatre of New York, the Wolf Trap Festival and other organizations. He has directed plays, operas and musicals all over the Midwest, including a 1993 tour of Aaron Copland's The Tender Land, which was performed on seven Midwestern working farms. Vern has made frequent appearances on A Prairie Home Companion for more than three decades. In fact, he was a guest on the very first show, in July of 1974.
Dan "Daddy Squeeze" Newton has been wowing audiences with offbeat accordion music ever since he won the Nebraska State Accordion Contest back in the 1980s. In the 20 years since he moved to Minnesota, he has become an acclaimed fixture on the music scene, both in the Twin Cities and beyond. A singer, composer and producer, he heads up a bunch of different groups, including the incomparable Café Accordion Orchestra, which specializes in vintage swing, Latin, polka, gypsy swing and French musette. Café Accordion's latest recording, Cinema, is an album of songs from the movies.
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. She moved to Nashville in the mid-'80s and paid the bills by singing demos by day and performing three nights a week at a local rib joint. 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).
Founded by Philip Brunelle in 1969 under the name Plymouth Music Series, VocalEssence is recognized internationally for innovative exploration of music for voices and instruments. Each year the organization, under Brunelle's direction, presents a series of concerts featuring the 120-voice VocalEssence Chorus and the 32-voice Ensemble Singers along with soloists and instrumentalists. VocalEssence has received the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for adventurous programming of contemporary music an unprecedented five times, and was awarded the Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence. Their latest recordings are Over the River & Through the Woods, a live concert celebration of Thanksgiving, and Hymn to Potatoes, a compilation of choral skits and bits from their A Prairie Home Companion appearances. On Sunday, November 27, Garrison Keillor joins the VocalEssence Chorus at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis for We Gather Together, a feast of sing-alongs, hymns, and more.
The Del McCoury Band
When Del McCoury was growing up in York County, Pennsylvania, he learned music from his mother, Hazel, a church organist. 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 sealed the deal. Del started playing bluegrass and, a half-century later, he has never looked back. The Del McCoury Band has won nearly every award Bluegrass has to offer, including a Grammy for their 2005 CD, The Company We Keep. Their latest release is an all-gospel album titled The Promised Land (McCoury Music). The band: Del McCoury, guitar; Ronnie McCoury, mandolin; Rob McCoury, banjo; Jason Carter, fiddle; Alan Bartram, bass.
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
At 17, Ricky Skaggs — already an accomplished singer and mandolin player — was invited to join the band of the legendary Ralph Stanley. That was in the early 1970s, and since the moment he first took the stage, Skaggs has built a reputation rarely equaled in the world of bluegrass music. In addition to his own projects, the 12-time Grammy winner has collaborated with a host of musicians, from Emmylou Harris to pianist/composer Bruce Hornsby, with whom he teamed up for the 2007 album Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby. His latest CD is Ricky Skaggs & The Whites: Salt of the Earth (Skaggs Family Music). Kentucky Thunder is Mark Fain, bass; Keith Sewell, guitar; Cody Kilby, guitar; Andy Leftwich, fiddle.
"Mama said I could carry a tune before I could talk," Sharon White recalls. Given the family gene pool, you've got to figure it's true. Buck White started his musical career not long after the end of World War II, working Texas dance halls and radio shows. In the 1970s, he moved his family to Nashville where he and daughters Sharon and Cheryl White began their recording career. By the 1980s, they were performing as The Whites and had a string of hits produced by Ricky Skaggs, whom Sharon married in 1982. Their induction as members of the Grand Ole Opry came in 1984. After years of blending their voices — from living room to stage — Ricky Skaggs and The Whites finally joined forces for their first collaborative album, 2007's Salt of the Earth (Skaggs Family Music).
The Brothers Frantzich
The Brothers Frantzich have spent several decades writing songs and singing in close harmony. And, yes, they really are brothers — Tim and Paul Frantzich, who grew up in Minneapolis and are still based in the Twin Cities. They have performed in clubs, theaters, churches, prisons, even on center ice before hockey games in Minnesota and elsewhere, and they are founders of Feed Them With Music, an organization promoting artists and events that donate 15 percent of profits toward feeding starving people worldwide. Heart Wing is The Brothers Frantzich's latest recording.
Robin and Linda Williams
“Individually their voices can melt cheese, and in duet they can do all-purpose welding,” Garrison Keillor has said of Robin and Linda Williams. And while their fans might not put it quite that way, they'd certainly agree. Singing the music they love, be it bluegrass, folk, old-time, or acoustic country, these two have carved out a three-decade career that has taken them from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. Buena Vista (Red House) is Robin and Linda's latest recording.
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 numerous symphony orchestras coast to coast. A frequent collaborator with VocalEssence and other choral ensembles, she is also a regular guest at the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival and the Oregon Festival of American Music. For years, Twin Cities audiences have delighted in her Sopranorama performances with Molly Sue McDonald, Janis Hardy and Dan Chouinard.
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.
Jevetta Steele moved to the Twin Cities from her hometown, Gary, Indiana, and started performing with her siblings. Many remember her Academy Award-nominated performance of “Calling You,” from the 1987 film Baghdad Café. In the 1980s, Jevetta Steele — along with The Steeles — toured the world in the musical The Gospel at Colonus. The show recently had another successful run in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in Edinburgh, Scotland. Among her solo albums is My Heart, released in 2006.
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).