In Memoriam: John Prine (1946 – 2020)

(Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for Americana Music Association 2018)

John Prine (October 10, 1946 – April 7, 2020) was an American country folk singer-songwriter. He was active as a composer, recording artist, and live performer since the early 1970s until his death, and was known for an often humorous style of country music that has elements of protest and social commentary.

Born and raised in Maywood, Illinois, Prine learned to play the guitar at the age of 14. He attended classes at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. After serving in West Germany with the U.S. armed forces, he moved to Chicago in the late 1960s, where he worked as a mailman, writing and singing songs as a hobby.

A member of Chicago’s folk revival, he was discovered by Kris Kristofferson, resulting in the production of Prine’s self-titled debut album with Atlantic Records in 1971. After receiving critical acclaim, Prine focused on his musical career, recording three more albums for Atlantic. He then signed to Asylum Records, where he recorded an additional three albums. In 1984 he co-founded Oh Boy Records, an independent record label with which he would release most of his subsequent albums. After his battle with squamous cell cancer in 1998, Prine’s vocals deepened into a gravelly voice.

Widely cited as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation, Prine is known for humorous lyrics about love, life, and current events, as well as serious songs with social commentary, or which recollect melancholy tales from his life.

Fiona Whelan Prine revealed on March 19, 2020 that she had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and had been quarantined in her home apart from Prine. On March 29, 2020, Prine’s family announced that he had been hospitalized on March 26 after suddenly experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19. He was intubated on the evening of March 28, and was in critical condition. On March 30, Whelan Prine tweeted that she had recovered and that her husband was now in stable condition, though she cautioned that this does not mean he is improving. On April 3, 2020, Whelan Prine gave another update on her husband’s condition saying that he was currently in his eighth day in ICU and that he is still on a ventilator and needs quite a bit of help with his breathing. He has pneumonia in both lungs and he has also developed some peripheral issues that are being treated with medications including antibiotics. She said that her husband is still very ill but she remains hopeful that he can continue to fight this and come home where his family can care for him.

Prine died on April 7, 2020 due to complications related to COVID-19 during the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic.

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