Prine, John, 1946-2020

Alternative names

Hide Profile

John Prine's place in the pantheon of great American songwriters was earned not by penning hits for others but by imbuing the characters that populate his songs with extraordinary resonance, humor and life.

"A truly original writer, unequaled, and a genuine poet of the American people" is how Poet Laureate (2004-2006) Ted Kooser described Prine in 2005. "He's taken ordinary people and made monuments of them, treating them with great respect and love."

Prine grew up in the Chicago-area neighborhood of Maywood, Illinois, though he spent influential summers in his parents' hometown of Paradise in western Kentucky. In the late 1960s, Prine began writing songs while out on his mail route for the U.S. Postal Service. By 1970, he had crafted a bag full of unusually affecting songs, including one about Paradise, Kentucky's demise at the hands of a coal company. In 1971, Prine's songwriting friend, Steve Goodman, was opening shows for Kris Kristofferson, and he brought Kristofferson to hear Prine after a show. Kristofferson helped Prine secure an Atlantic Records deal and wrote liner notes for his debut. "Twenty-four years old and writes like he's two hundred and twenty," raved Kristofferson in praising an album now widely accepted as a collection of roots-music standards. Others quickly took notice of Prine's debut, with major artists such as the Everly Brothers, Bette Midler, Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt recording their own versions of the album's songs. Raitt's devastating "Angel From Montgomery" has been an every-night concert feature for her since 1974.

Prine continued writing songs that, while drawing acclaim from critics and a growing audience alike, fell outside of the sonic and lyrical parameters of mainstream radio. He didn't score a country radio hit until Don Williams took "Love is on a Roll" to the top of the charts in 1983. Prine, who had moved to Nashville in 1980, also co-wrote George Strait's 1986 smash, "I Just Want to Dance with You." Mostly, he remained focused on writing songs for himself and on maintaining his independent record label, Oh Boy Records.

Prine won a Grammy for his 1991 album, The Missing Years, and another for a 2005 album, Fair & Square. In 2005, he was named Artist of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards, and his importance has been cited by such songwriting exemplars as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters and Tom T. Hall.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Burdette, Alan R. (Alan Ray). [United States, Indiana, Bloomington, "Whigmaleerie: an odd and fanciful contrivance," 1990] [sound recording] / collected by Archives staff. Indiana University, Archives of Traditional Music
referencedIn Southern Folklife Collection Artist Name File, 1940-2005 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.
referencedIn Arthur Unger collection of recorded interviews [sound recording] The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Index to Voice of America (VOA) Taped Recordings United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Chicago [Binder] [1] United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Dorothy Rivers [1] William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Tennessee NHL Sun Record Company National Archives Library, National Archives Records Administration
Relation Name
associatedWith Kristofferson, Kris person
associatedWith Steve Goodman person
associatedWith Unger, Arthur person
memberOf United States. Army corporateBody
employeeOf United States Postal Service corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Nashville TN US
Maywood IL US
Chicago IL US


Birth 1946-10-10

Death 2020-04-07






Ark ID: w66h7qp5

SNAC ID: 74932556