John Prine Biography

(Known for an Often Humorous Style of Original Music That Has Elements of Protest and Social Commentary)

Birthday: October 10, 1946 (Libra)

Born In: Maywood, Illinois, United States

American singer-songwriter, composer, recording artist, and actor John Prine is remembered for his illustrious career in the country-folk music arena. The Illinois-born artist was 14 when he learned to play the guitar. Though he had a short stint in the US Army and as a mailman, he later went back to music, performing in clubs. Part of Chicago's folk revival, he earned a Grammy nomination with his debut self-titled album. In the 1980s, Prine co-founded his own record label, Oh Boy Records, and all his subsequent albums were released through the label. He is best known for his iconic tracks Sam Stone, Paradise, and Hello in There. In addition to the 4 Grammy awards for his works, Prine also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He had married thrice and was also a 2-time cancer survivor. He eventually died of COVID-19 complications in 2020.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: John Edward Prine

Died At Age: 73


Spouse/Ex-: Anne Prine, Fiona Whelan, Rachel Peer, Anne Prine (m. 1966–1979), Fiona Whelan (m. 1996–2020), Rachel Peer (m. 1984–1988)

father: William Mason Prine, William Prine

mother: Verna Hamm, Verna Valentine

siblings: David Prine

children: Jack Prine, Tommy Prine

Born Country: United States

Quotes By John Prine Singers

Died on: April 7, 2020

place of death: Nashville, Tennessee, United States

Diseases & Disabilities: Lung Cancer

Cause of Death: Deaths From The COVID-19 Pandemic

U.S. State: Illinois

Founder/Co-Founder: Oh Boy Records

Early Life & Education

John Edward Prine was born on October 10, 1946, in Maywood, Illinois, US, to tool-and-die maker William Mason Prine and homemaker Verna Valentine (Hamm). His parents were both from rural Kentucky.

While he grew up in Maywood, a Chicago suburb, he was taught how to play the guitar by his brother at 14. His grandfather has played with Merle Travis.

Prine initially attended the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and then graduated from Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois. He then worked as a postman for the US Postal Service for 5 years. He later worked as a vehicle mechanic for the US Army in West Germany for 2 years.

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After his stint in the army, John Prine returned to Illinois and started to establish his career in the Chicago folk music scene of the late 1960s. He had already bonded with singer Steve Goodman during his postal service days. In 1970, film critic Roger Ebert was impressed by Prine’s performance in a bar and ended up giving him a decent press coverage.

When Goodman opened for Kris Kristofferson, he requested the songwriter to meet his friend Prine. Kristofferson, impressed by Prine’s talent, asked him and Goodman to perform a few songs at a show. An Atlantic Records executive, who was in the audience, offered Prine a contract the following day.

Prine was praised by critics for his self-titled 1971 debut album. It contained some of his best-known tracks, such as Hello in There, Sam Stone, Illegal Smile, and Paradise, and was nominated for a Grammy for the Best New Artist in 1972. His next few albums, Diamonds in the Rough (1972) and Sweet Revenge (1973), were also received well by critics but did not do too well commercially.

In the mid-1970s, he also began experimenting with melodic folk/country sound and soon released the 1975 album Common Sense. While his 1978 album Bruised Orange was almost a return to his original tone, his 1979 album Pink Cadillac had a more rock-centric appeal and was considered by many as a perfect instance of first-generation rock and roll.

Following the 1980 album Storm Windows, Prine was dropped by his label Asylum. In 1984, Prine launched his own label, Oh Boy Records, with his manager Al Bunetta, thus avoiding middle-men. The label’s debut release was the 1984 album Aimless Love. His 1986 album German Afternoons earned him a Grammy nomination for the Best Contemporary Folk Recording.

This was followed by the launch of albums such as The Missing Years in 1991, which won him the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. After his first cancer diagnosis in 1998 and its subsequent treatment, he could still complete his pending album, which was released as the 1999 duets album In Spite of Ourselves.

Prine received the Americana Music Award for the Artist of the Year in September 2005. The same year, he released his 15th studio album, Fair & Square, as a CD and an EP. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album at the 48th Grammy Awards. Prine also scripted history as the first singer-songwriter to perform and read at the Library of Congress, when he was recommended for the same by US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser in 2005.

Subsequently, Prine released the critically acclaimed 2007 album Standard Songs for Average People, with veteran singer Mac Wiseman. In 2016, Prine was awarded the PEN New England Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award.

His final album was the 2018 release The Tree of Forgiveness. It contained guest performances by Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, and Jason Isbell. The record made it to number 5 on the Top 200 albums chart, peaking at the 2nd spot on the Country Albums chart. It also topped the Folk Albums chart and was nominated for the Grammy for the Best Americana Album. The following year, Prine was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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In 2020, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2021, his track I Remember Everything earned him the posthumous Grammys for the Best American Roots Performance and the Best American Roots Song.

Throughout his illustrious career, John Prine also received 6 Americana Music Honors & Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting in 2003; the Artist of the Year Award in 2005, 2017, and 2018; the Song of the Year honor for the track Summer's End in 2019; and the Album of the Year for The Tree of Forgiveness in 2019.

John Prine’s tracks have been covered by artists such as The Everly Brothers (Paradise), Joan Baez (Hello in There), Bette Midler (Hello in There), and Laura Cantrell (Sam Stone). His tracks were known for their marked social commentary. He has also appeared in movies such as the 1992 drama film Falling from Grace and the 2001 dark comedy Daddy and Them.

Many of Prine's songs have been featured on soundtracks of films such as The Pride of Jesse Hallam (1981), UFOria (1984), Fire Down Below (1997), Grass (1999), and Into the Wild (2007).

On June 30, 2020, Prine was posthumously named the honorary Poet Laureate of Illinois by Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker. In 2022, Canadian indie-rock singer and guitarist Leith Ross won the first John Prine Songwriter Fellowship, which was launched in Prine’s honor.

Personal Life & Death

On December 26, 1967, John Prine married Ann Carole Menaloscino, his high school sweetheart. They divorced in the 1970s. Prine then married bassist Rachel Peer on July 1, 1984. They divorced in 1988.

Prine met Fiona Whelan in 1988. She later became his manager. Whelan moved to Nashville from Ireland in 1993, while the couple married in 1996.

They had 2 sons, Jack and Tommy, while Prine also adopted Jody, Whelan's son from a previous relationship. His sons were both born in 1995, 10 months apart. Prine subsequently also spent time in his Irish home in Kinvara, Galway.

In 1998, while working on an album of country duets, Prine was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (cancer) on his neck. Following this, he underwent surgery and radiation and recovered completely by 1999, receiving speech therapy later. However, the surgery altered his voice.

In late 2014, Prine’s cancer returned in his left lung, and he received surgery and treatment. The following year, he was back touring. However, he died from complications of the COVID-19 virus on April 7, 2020. He was 73 back then.


Grammy Awards
2021 Best American Roots Performance Winner
2021 Best American Roots Song Winner
2006 Best Contemporary Folk Album Winner
1992 Best Contemporary Folk Album Winner
1987 Best Contemporary Folk Recording Winner

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