Grammy-winning singer and poignant songwriter John Prine has died at the age of 73 due to complications from COVID-19, his family confirmed to the New York Times.
The prolific Prine died on Tuesday, 7 April at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Prine was hospitalized last month due to the sudden onset of COVID-19 symptoms and was placed in intensive care.
With five decades of folk-country classics to his name, Prine was an integral part of American roots music and was revered by critics and fellow artists alike, counting Bob Dylan, Roger Waters and Kris Kristofferson as admirers, among others.
Dylan even listed Prine among his favourite songwriters, telling the Huffington Post back in 2009, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” he said. “Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.”
The raspy-voiced singer was still relatively unknown when he was “discovered” Kristofferson who heard him play one night at a small Chicago club called the Fifth Peg. Cut to a few weeks later, and Prine was playing the legendary Bitter End club in New York City, where he appeared with Carly Simon. Also sitting in the audience happened to be record executive Jerry Wexler, who signed him to a contract with Atlantic Records the next day.
Prine’s singular talent was his ability to wring poetry out of the everyday stories of working people. Along with releasing over 24 studio and live albums over the course of his career, his compositions were often covered and turned into hits for others, from Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Angel From Montgomery’, Johnny Cash’s ‘Sam Stone’ and George Strait’s ‘I Just Wanna Dance With You’, among others.
“He’s a true folk singer in the best folk tradition, cutting right to the heart of things, as pure and simple as rain,” Raitt told Rolling Stone in 1992.
John Prine was born on 10 October 1946, in the working-class suburb of Chicago, Maywood, Illinois. He was reared on county music, and after graduating from high school, he worked for the Post Office for two years before being drafted into the Army overseas. After he was discharged, he went back to his mail route and started performing at open mic nights at the Fifth Peg on the side.
Another fateful night of kismet, Roger Ebert, the film critic for The Chicago Tribune, caught his set and penned Prine’s first review, under the headline “Singing Mailman Who Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words,” the rest was history.
He won his first Grammy for his 1992 album, The Missing Years, featuring guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and other artists, and received his second Grammy for his 2006 for the album Fair and Square. In December, he was chosen to receive a 2020 Grammy for lifetime achievement.
Prine had suffered from health problems before, undergoing cancer surgery in 1998 to remove a tumour in his neck and had part of one lung removed to treat lung cancer in 2013.
He is survived by his wife, Fiona Whelan Prine, whom he married in 1996; three sons, Jody, Jack and Tommy; two brothers, Dave and Billy; and three grandsons.