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John Prine 1946-2020

Austin City Limits was greatly saddened to learn of the death of singer and songwriter John Prine, who died April 7 from complications due to the coronavirus. John Prine’s last Austin City Limits performance is scheduled to broadcast again on PBS on April 18th. Check your local listings or stream it online in its entirety below.

What can we say about John Prine? It’s no secret that he was one of the greatest songwriters to ever pick up a guitar – everyone from Kris Kristofferson (who discovered him) to Elvis Costello to Bonnie Raitt to Johnny Cash to Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to Bob Dylan would agree. Even film critic Roger Ebert, stumbling upon Prine at a Chicago open mic in 1970 after a movie, lavished rapturous praise on the Illinois mail carrier, shifting his piece that night from covering the film to covering Prine’s set. (It was Prine’s first review.) His work’s plainspoken eloquence, keen intelligence, sly wit, and singalong melodies make lifelong friends with anyone who chances upon them. 

We certainly felt he was in the upper echelon of tunesmithing greats. Prine appeared on the show eight times – headlining his own episodes in 1978, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2005 and 2018, joining a songwriters special in 1983, and appearing as a guest of Bonnie Raitt in 2002, duetting on his classic “Angel From Montgomery,” in a performance Raitt called one of the highlights of her career.

Bonnie Raitt and John Prine, Austin City Limits, 2002

We were stunned and thrilled by Prine’s most recent appearance two years ago in Season 44, when he was supporting his wildly acclaimed album Tree of Forgiveness. This was a man who hadn’t lost a step in the progression of his talent over the years, writing songs as smart and funny and powerful as he ever had. Quite simply, he was one of the best.

“This one really hurts, like a dagger to the heart. John Prine was so integral to the essence of Austin City Limits, and few artists graced the ACL stage over the years and decades more than he did,” says executive producer Terry Lickona. “The last time I saw him and his sweet wife Fiona was at this year’s Grammy Awards for his Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was as charming and self-effacing as usual, brushing off all the fuss. He leaves a void that no one else can fill.”

John Prine was one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of American songwriting. He will be missed. 

John Prine, Austin City Limits, 2018