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John Prine, 73, Dies After Being Hospitalized For COVID-19 Complications

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John Prine performs in Hollywood at John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on October 1, 2019. (Riih Fury/Getty Images)
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The singer and songwriter John Prine, whose influential songs were recorded by some of folk music’s most acclaimed musicians, died today. His death was first reported tonight by Rolling Stone, citing his family as the source. Prine, who was 73, had been hospitalized for coronavirus and put on a ventilator on March 26.

Over the span of more than five decades, Prine recorded not only his own eloquent and often humorous Americana songs but also saw his compositions performed by Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, John Fogerty, Kris Kristoferson, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, John Denver, and, most famously, Bonnie Raitt, who sang Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.”

Prine recorded more than 20 live and studio albums after launching his career in 1971 with the self-titled record, “John Prine,” which included his own version of “Angel from Montgomery.”

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He won two Grammys, both for best contemporary folk album: 1991’s “The Missing Years” and 2005’s “Fair & Square.” In a move that was decades ahead of other performers, Prine in 1981 launched the independent label Oh Boy Records, which subsequently released albums by Prine, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

Prine’s lyrical songs could be comical and moving, often at the same time. He wrote about love and loss and politics, often from a very specific and personal perspective. In the 1971 song “Hello in There,” he sang about growing old and alone. Amazingly, Prine wrote the tune when he was only 25 years old:


Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,

And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

Prine, who was a mailman and Vietnam veteran before launching his musical career, didn’t possess anything close to a smooth voice, but his lyrics were nonetheless mellifluous. His rhyming schemes were delightful and clever, as in this song “In Spite of Ourselves,” which he recorded with Iris DeMent:
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She thinks all my jokes are corny

Convict movies make her horny

She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs

Swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs

In 2018, Prine made an appearance on NPR's popular Tiny Desk concert series.

Many people might not have known Prine by name, but they likely were familiar with his songs, thanks to artists better known than he was.

In addition to Raitt’s 1974 rendition of “Angel from Montgomery,” Johnny Cash recorded Prine’s “Sam Stone,” the Southern band My Morning Jacket sang his “All the Best,” and Prine’s “Hello in There” was recorded by dozens of singers and bands, including Kristofferson, Midler and 10,000 Maniacs.

When news of Prine’s coronavirus diagnosis surfaced, an array of musicians recorded musical tributes, including Stephen Colbert, who shared a 2016 duo with Prine of “That’s the Way the World Goes Round” that was never broadcast:

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Blues singer Ruthie Foster, in her front yard, playing “Angel from Montgomery”:

And Joan Baez, singing “Hello in There” from her kitchen, which she said was one of the most-requested songs she performs:

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Prine died Monday based on the initial Rolling Stone report.


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