John Prine, who died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19, was a foundational figure, guiding light and embodying spirit of Americana music. In recent years his presence at the annual Americana Music Honors and Awards, held every September at Nashville's hallowed Ryman Auditorium, defined that event. Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, reflected upon Prine's passing:
When John Prine became ill with the virus that would take his life, I was asked to write about why the man is important. I don't have that way with words. His impact is so deep, and not just to those of us who know him. A few years ago, as John walked on stage unannounced to present an award at the Ryman, the crowd rose to its feet, not allowing him to speak. As the applause died down John stepped up to the podium and said, amused, "I was gonna come out and tell you who I was." John Prine was a hero — truly an American treasure. He was our pied piper, our revered monk, our soothsayer. What John said, went. He had this magical way of making everyone around him feel special, whether you knew him personally or not. He could share his extraordinary being on such a personal level that fans felt like they knew him. He was their friend, their personal special find, their treasure. Knowing him has been an honor of my lifetime. He was the most humble, kind, funny and real soul on the planet.
Here are two performances and three acceptance speeches that demonstrate how John Prine made the Americana Awards so special.
John Prine Performs "Angel From Montgomery" With Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt, whose 1974 recording of "Angel From Montgomery" helped make the song perhaps Prine's most beloved ballad, joined her old friend for a deeply poignant version from last year's awards ceremony.
John Prine Performs 2019 Song Of The Year, "Summer's End"
"Summer's end came faster than we wanted," Prine sang in this gorgeous full-band version of his one of last great reflections on love and time from the 2018 awards ceremony.
John Prine Accepts 2017's Artist Of The Year Award
In 2017 Prine won Americana's most coveted award, Artist of the Year. "I've been waiting for this award a while," Prine wryly said — he'd last taken it home in 2005 — before thanking Oh Boy, the independent label he'd cofounded in 1981, and "the people that come to see us every weekend, cos that's the beautiful part of it."
John Prine Accepts 2018's Artist Of The Year Award
"I believe I got this last year, like Groundhog Day," Prine chuckled when he won Artist of the Year again in 2018, continuing: "I want to thank everybody that bought my records and didn't buy my records – we'll get ya sooner or later."
John Prine Accepts 2019's Song Of The Year Award For "Summer's End"
"Me and Pat [cowriter Pat McLaughlin] went out to the Grammys, we had speeches from then.. we still got 'em," Prine joked upon winning Song of the Year for this Grammy-nominated late-career favorite. The video he mentioned addresses the current opioid crisis, and he dedicated this prize to former Nashville mayor Megan Barry's son Max, who died of an overdose in 2017.