Bill Monroe once said, "I believe Bob Black is the best at playing the old-time fiddle numbers of any banjo player." Not a bad compliment. Bob first heard Monroe's music when he was a high schooler in Des Moines. Hooked on bluegrass, he learned to play on a rented Kay banjo. In 1974, with a decade of music under his belt, he joined the Blue Grass Boys and spent the next two years in the band. Since then, Bob has worked with a number of musicians in various groups, including a duo with his wife, Kristie.
When Kathy Chiavola earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in voice from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, everyone assumed that she was heading for a career in opera. Plans change. After moving to Nashville, she sang backup for a long list of luminaries before starting her own band. And while she turned down Bill Monroe's offer to join the Blue Grass Boys, she and Monroe remained friends for the rest of his life. Kathy's most recent solo album is titled Somehow (My Label).
As a child, Stuart Duncan hung out in the Escondido, California, folk club where his father was the soundman. He was inspired by the music of Vassar Clements, Byron Berline, and others. At age seven, he took up playing fiddle. Since then, he has chalked up a career that includes two Grammy Awards and being named the International Bluegrass Music Association's Fiddle Player of the Year eight times. He was a founding member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and is perennially one of Nashville's most sought-after session musicians.
Ohio native Tom Ewing was the final lead singer and guitarist with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys — from 1986 to 1996 — replacing Wayne Lewis, the only guitarist who had a longer tenure with the group. He appeared on Monroe's last three studio albums, including the Grammy-winning Southern Flavor. He edited The Bill Monroe Reader (University of Illinois Press, 2000), a compilation of the writings of interviewers, admirers, folklorists, and other scholars, along with Tom Ewing's own commentary.
Growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, bassist Mark Hembree was a choirboy and trombonist at St. Joseph Catholic Grade School. But in his teens, he fell under the spell of progressive bluegrass. In 1977, he joined the groundbreaking Monroe Doctrine. He went on to spend five years with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, then cofounded the Nashville Bluegrass Band. These days, Mark is back in Wisconsin, working as a magazine editor. His new Western swing band is called the Best Westerns.
Born in North Carolina — where he still makes his home — 10-time Grammy winner Bobby Hicks learned to play the fiddle before he was nine years old. By the time he was 11, he had won the North Carolina State Fiddle Championship. He started playing in Bill Monroe's band in the early 1950s, first as a bass player and later switching to fiddle. With the exception of a few years off to join the Army, Bobby stayed with Monroe until 1959. He went on to work with Porter Wagoner, the Judy Lynn Show, Ricky Skaggs, and Jesse McReynolds.
Peter Rowan has been a mainstay on the music scene for more than four decades. In 1964, he signed on as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Following two and a half years with Monroe, Peter collaborated with David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Richard Greene, Vassar Clements and others. He embarked on a solo career in 1978. These days, his bands include the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band and the Free Mexican Air Force.
In the late 1960s, mandolinist Roland White spent nearly two years as guitarist with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. He was already a veteran of the Country Boys, a band he organized with his siblings when they were youngsters, and the Kentucky Colonels. After his stint with Monroe, Roland went on to play with Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass, Country Gazette, and the Grammy-winning Nashville Bluegrass Band. He now leads the Roland White Band.
When Blake Williams was 13, he entered a banjo contest in Clarkrange, Tennessee, and won a fruitcake — it had a worm in it. His music career improved: Fresh out of high school, he toured with Bobby Smith & The Boys From Shiloh, then worked with Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass and James Monroe's Midnight Ramblers. In 1981, he joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and was with the band until 1991 — the group's longest-tenured banjo player. He followed with a bass-playing stint with Hee Haw star Mike Snider. Blake is nicknamed "The Sparta Flash," after his hometown of Sparta, Tennessee.
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Life Among the Lutherans (Augsburg Books) and Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, most recently Good Poems: American Places (Viking)
Each week on A Prairie Home Companion, Richard Dworsky leads the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band. A keyboardist, composer and arranger, Rich has accompanied Garrison Keillor on U.S. and European concert tours and has provided original music for many Keillor recordings.
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. Nobody's Fault (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's 10 albums.
Sound effects man Fred Newman is an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for film and TV. He is author of the book (and CD/CD-ROM) MouthSounds. Fred admits that, growing up, he was unceremoniously removed from several classrooms, "once by my bottom lip."
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
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).