Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Moose Lake native performs on stages across the world


October 4, 2018

Lois E. Johnson

Prudence and her siblings, father and step-mother, and sister-in-law. From left: Ben, Charlotte, John, Julie, Patrick, Prudence, Brian, Pinky, Chris, Imy, Roland, and Mary, Kevin's wife, with their granddaughter, Lillian. Kevin died in May after losing a battle with cancer.

Editor's Note: Prudence Johnson, singer, and Dan Chouinard, pianist, will be performing in a concert at the Moose Lake Community School auditorium on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 4 p.m. Johnson is a Moose Lake native and was asked to write a little about themselves and their performance.

Dan Chouinard and I are history lovers and, together and apart, have for several years been creating what I like to call "musical history tours." We explore a time and a place through the music that was part of the people's lives to see how the songs reflect the spirit of the era, and vice versa.

Some examples are "The Golden Age of Radio" and "Flappers, Miners and Moonshiners: Minnesota in the '20s." Those are both shows we created together for the Minnesota Historical Society that feature a mix of songs and history, and sometimes, pictures.

Dan has written similar shows for Minnesota Public Radio and TPT - that I've been a part of - on the Civil War, World War I, Vietnam and more.

It is especially meaningful to me to commemorate the Fires of 1918 in this way. The stories that I heard as a child were told to me by actual survivors, and the remnants of root cellars and buildings that had been lost in the fire were still visible in the fields close by.

I was born in Moose Lake, the oldest of 10, and lived in town until I was seven. My family bought a farm four miles west of town, just down the road from "Dead Man's Curve" and at the center of the area where some of the worst tragedies of the 1918 fire occurred.

My father, Roland Johnson, is a wonderful singer and taught us all to sing as we learned to speak. A love of music runs in the family. Our neighbor, Arnold Lund, gave us a piano. My musical training began at the age of nine. Arnold had survived the fire when he was a boy of nine in 1918, and he told me the story of how most of his family got through it, and how two of his siblings did not.

I was in choir and band in school, under the direction of Kenneth Larson, from whom I learned a lot. I graduated from high school in 1970 and married Jerry Madsen later that year (we were so young). Our daughter, Jodie, was born the following year. We separated after a couple of years and I went to St. Cloud, where I discovered that I could make a living as a singer. In 1975, I felt I was ready for the Big City and moved to Minneapolis.

I met a couple of wonderful guitarists/singers and formed a trio called Rio Nido. Forty years after we met, we've come full circle and have recently reunited. We've performed several concerts around the state and will be recording new material this fall. Back in the '70s, we frequently appeared on a regional radio show hosted by a guy named Garrison Keillor. We were part of the first national broadcast of Prairie Home Companion. I also worked on the show on my own from 1983-1986 and 2004-2008, bringing me into contact with some amazing artists. Chet Atkins, Odetta, Linda Ronstadt and Billy Collins come to mind.

During my entire adult life, I've been a full-time musician. The biggest challenge when my daughter was young was finding babysitters who could stay until midnight on weekdays. I had a lot of support from family and friends. And it's been a wonderful job, bumpy at times, as self-employment can be, but it has taken me to Scandinavia, Russia, Central Europe and Israel. I have found myself on the stages of Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, and in movies created by Robert Redford and Robert Altman.

I didn't plan any of it - it just happened.

I decided to go to college in middle age and graduated from Hamline University in 1998. I would be a perpetual college student if time permitted. I loved every minute of it.

My daughter, Jodie, now lives in Maple Grove with her husband, Terry. My grandson, Jeremy, was married in Paris last year and lives with his wife, Dominique, in Austin, Texas. My granddaughter, Allison, is a junior at St. Catherine University.

These days, my late-night gigs are a thing of the past. I collaborate on fun musical projects with colleagues who are also my friends. Many of those collaborations involve Dan Chouinard, who plays piano and accordion, and is the finest musician I know. We have a classic country music band called Lush Country, and we do a couple of shows annually with storyteller Kevin Kling. Each of the last five years we've created a theatrical concert with two other singers. This year's show was "Dear Lenny: Bernstein's Life in Songs and Letters," which has been a great success.

I enjoy performing many different kinds of music, which hasn't been a great career move, but it keeps it interesting. It sure has been fun!

Tickets for the concert are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Contact the Moose Lake Area Historical Society at 485-4234 for more information and to purchase a ticket. Credit cards are accepted.

Or stop in to the museum at 900 Folz Boulevard on Friday or Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., to purchase tickets.


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