GULFPORT — It’s only been a few months since legendary folk singer-songwriter John Prine appeared on the stage at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall delighting his devoted fans with an engaging setlist of songs — some sad, all honest — and endearing observations.
How the world has changed since that Dec. 7 concert.
Prine died April 7 in a Nashville hospital due to complications from COVID-19.
The first official notice the world received that the part-time Gulfport resident had contracted the virus came March 29 with a post on social media from his family. According to the post, after a sudden onset of symptoms, he was hospitalized on March 26 and put on a ventilator on March 29.
“This is hard news for us to share,” the post read. “But so many of you have loved and supported John over the years, we wanted to let you know, and give you the chance to send off more of that love and support now.”
Fiona Whelan Prine, his wife and manager, posted an update April 3 that indicated he was receiving excellent medical care and being treated with kindness and compassion.
“He still needs quite a bit of help with his breathing,” she said in the post. “Like many patients currently in ICU beds all around the world, John has pneumonia in both lungs. He has also developed some peripheral issues that are being treated with meds, including antibiotics.”
The 73-year-old undoubtedly had more songs left to write and more tales to tell. Beginning in May, he planned to hit the road once more, visiting towns such as Louisville, Kentucky; Calgary, Alberta; Philadelphia; and Vienna, Virginia. According to his website, the tour included a sold-out Aug. 30 show in Dublin. His 2020 itinerary didn’t include a stop in the Tampa Bay area, but it’s a good bet he’d have found a spot in the schedule to visit. Every time he played in Pinellas, it was like a homecoming for the part-time Gulfport resident.
From his eponymously titled first LP release in 1971, Prine continued to write and perform songs that became central to our American musical heritage. Classics such as “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Paradise” and “Hello In There” speak to the everyday experience of ordinary people with a simple honesty, and an extraordinary ability to get right through to the heart of the listener.
Prine’s career spanned nearly 50 years. Among the many awards and accolades Prine has received in recent times are his 2003 induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and an Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting that was honored at the Library of Congress by U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. Prine won two Grammy Awards out of 11 nominations as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Prine was more than a well-loved and appreciated songwriter: He was a genuine American treasure.
“Some say songwriters are the voices of the gods, or windows into the deepest parts of humanity,” said Julie Black, a singer-songwriter based in New Port Richey. “John Prine certainly embodied this, connecting listeners to stories and experiences that might otherwise go untold or unnoticed. Through his music he brought greater understanding — a noble calling in my book. “
Black said that music that connects us is priceless — especially in difficult times, like we are currently experiencing.
“I’m grateful he followed the call,” Black said. “His music is a gift that will carry on within us.”