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John Prine, influential singer-songwriter, dead at 73 due to COVID-19 complications

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Paul Natkin/Getty ImagesInfluential Grammy-winning singer/songerwriter John Prine has died at 73.  Known for folk/country songs that often featured humor and social commentary, Prine influenced giants like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.  His family confirmed the news to Rolling Stone and said the cause of death was complications due to COVID-19.

In late March, Prine’s family announced that he’d been hospitalized in critical condition due to COVID-19 and was on a ventilator.

Prine weathered several health issues over the past few decades. In the late 1990s, he announced that doctors detected squamous cell cancer in his neck.  Following radiation and surgery, he was able resume his career, albeit with a deepened voice. In 2013, he announced he had an operable “non-small cell carcinoma,” in his left lung and took time off to heal. 

An Illinois-born Army veteran, Prine was a part of Chicago’s 1960s folk revival scene. After being championed by Kris Kristofferson, he released his debut album in 1971.  It included some of Prine’s signature songs, including “Paradise,” “Illegal Smile,” “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone” and “Angel from Montgomery,” the latter famously covered by Bonnie Raitt.

Prine released albums at a steady clip throughout the ’70s and his songs were covered by other artists: David Allen Coe’s version of “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” written by Prine and his friend Steve Goodman, was a top-10 country hit.

In 1981, Prine co-founded an independent label called Oh Boy Records to release his work.  Other artists continued to cover his songs: Don Williams took “Love Is on a Roll” to number one on the country chart in 1983 and in 1985, and the country supergroup The Highwaymen — featuring Cash, Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson — cut Prine’s song “The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over.”

In the ’90s, Prine won his first Grammy and released several albums produced by Howie Epstein of Tom Petty‘s Heartbreakers.  In 1999, Prine released In Spite of Ourselves, an album of country cover versions of his songs featuring duets with Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Lucinda Williams, Connie Smith and other country and Americana vocalists. A 2016 sequel, For Better, or Worse, featured duets with Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack, Kathy Mattea and Alison Krauss.

Prine’s most recent album, 2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness, debuted at number five, his highest chart ranking ever. It featured collaborations with The Black Keys Dan Auerbach, Jason Isbell, and Brandi Carlile, all of whom claimed Prine as an influence.

Prine was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019. In January of 2020, he was a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and Bonnie Raitt performed “Angel from Montgomery” in his honor.

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