Minnesota Music Hall of Famers: The Petersons Celebrate Family, Music and the Holidays
“We live our lives like our parents taught us…..with integrity, musicality, and love for each other. They all go hand in hand.” –Paul Peterson
We’ve known them for years as Minnesota’s “First Family of Music”: Patriarch, the late bandleader Willie Peterson led the WCCO house band and played organ for the Minnesota Twins before his premature death at age 46. An inductee of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame herself, mother, the late Jeanne Arland Peterson has been called Minnesota’s “First Lady of Jazz;” she took over as the Twins’ organist, and had a long career performing and recording (as pianist and vocalist). Daughter Linda Peterson is well known as a talented international recording artist, songwriter, pianist and vocalist based in Palm Springs as well as the Twin Cities. Daughter Patty Peterson is one of the best known radio personalities in the Twin Cities as well as an award-winning vocalist and recording artist. Son Ricky Peterson is best known for his long-time association with sax legend David Sanborn and as producer/keyboardist for Prince, and currently tours with Fleetwood Mac. Son Billy Peterson played bass on Bob Dylan’s acclaimed Blood on the Tracks, and has had long associations with the likes of Ben Sidran and the Steve Miller Band as well as more recent collaborations with Bill Carrothers and Dave King. Youngest son Paul (aka “St. Paul Peterson”) is a multi-instrumentalist/vocalist and producer who was lead vocalist with The Family, performed with The Time, and appeared in Prince’s iconic film, Purple Rain; he has also toured with the Steve Miller Band, Kenny Loggins, and Oleta Adams. Heading a third generation of performers, Linda’s son Jason Peterson DeLaire is making his mark on keyboards, saxophone and vocals, as well as through producing and songwriting, and touring nationally and internationally with renowned artists such as Oleta Adams, Prince, Donny Osmond, and currently Michael Bolton.
Now, the “Peterson Family”–the second generation plus Jason– has joined Jeanne and other elite musicians of Minnesota as 2019 inductees of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. They are in good company with a wide assortment of musicians from all genres, including Judy Garland, Bob Dylan, Prince, Garrison Keillor, Dominick Argento, the Minnesota Orchestra, St Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, and jazzers Percy Hughes, Irv Wiliams, Dennis Spears, and Arne Fogel, among others. As a family unit, the Petersons join several sibling teams as well as the Steele Family as inductees. (The Class of 2019 also included some family connections– John and Sara McKay and the O’Neill Brothers, along with John Holmquist, Soul Asylum, and Ernie Coopman.)
Right on the heels of the November 2nd induction ceremonies in New Ulm, MN, the Peterson Family is busy rehearsing for their annual holiday show, this year returning to the Hopkins Center for the Arts on December 14–just a few weeks after Patty released her fifth solo recording, Count Your Blessings, in the midst of cross-country and European tours for Ricky, Billy and Jason, and Linda’s seasonal return to Palm Springs. Catching up with the Petersons is as easy as catching a single snowflake in a Minnesota blizzard.
Minnesota Music Hall of Fame
How did the MMHOF award come about? Patty notes that [husband] “Stuart Paster nominated us about three years in a row, saying ‘this family needs to be recognized.’ So that’s how it all started.” An initially the Hall of Fame induction was to be limited to the five siblings–the second generation. But then, “Stuart also went to bat for Jason,” recalls Linda, “because Jason had been left out, and really, he is part of our core…he’s the straggler, but he’s in that core of Petersons. So Stuart was also very nice to say ‘hey, what about Jason?'” Adds Patty, “They thought Jason lived in LA…Nathan Sperl at the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame – he knew of Jason, and knew that he was worthy. But he had to have a board meeting, and we had to submit information on Jason, and they went unanimously, ‘yup, he’s gonna be part of it. So that was really fun.” “He was so happy about it,” notes mom Linda.
Because it is nearly impossible to get all Petersons in one place at one time, only Patty, Paul and Jason were able to attend the induction ceremonies in New Ulm. Patty described the event: “There was a ceremony in New Ulm at Turner Hall – at historic Turner Hall – and the event announcer told us that the oldest bar in Minnesota was underneath the historic Turner Hall. ..Jason, Paul and I were able to be present, of the six of us who were inducted. And we had about 25 friends and family who came from the Twin Cities to be with us. It was wonderful. And we were the front page news of the New Ulm Journal. And it was really very fun. It was touching, and I think one of the things that we all felt was that feeling of doing your art for so long, and wondering if anybody is really listening and hearing you, and this really was that pat on the back, saying ‘we’ve heard you, we get you, and yes, thank you.'”
And receiving the honor as a family was particularly special. Notes Paul, “To me, family is everything. We obviously grew up together, and music was one way we communicated. To share this honor as a family is incredibly special, and just feels right… It’s a legacy that generations to come can be proud of.”
“It’s such an honor, ” said Linda, and “I couldn’t be there. I was in Argentina, and I think Ricky was still out with Fleetwood Mac, and Billy was with Ben Sidran in Europe, so we felt bad to miss it. Patty and Paul and Jason were there, and they represented us…our cousins came in from California, and there were lots of congratulatory messages over the Internet from far and wide – such a nice honor.”
Patty also noted that the event “created a mini family reunion. A lot of us stayed in the same hotel, and it was a lot of fun. So the joy then carried over into the next day, because we toured the museum and we got to see the [displays of ]people who had been inducted via their individual [display] cases. And we got to see what they had done with our mom’s items, which Linda and I brought down three or four years ago, and they did a beautiful case in her honor, including one of her cocktail dresses. And then we have about three shelves – because we’re such a big family – of awards, articles, photographs, CD covers, just to name a few of the many things. And it was a wonderful representation, I thought. Those items were also out at the banquet itself, so people could see what had been the accomplishments of the inductees. And I’ll tell you what was sweet — Jason with uncle Paul, who’s like his big brother, and an uncle, and with his girlfriend, Angela. They were looking at Jeanne’s case, and Jason –he was really working with some tears there, looking at all the recognition. And I think, in addition to our being inducted, that really made it a blessing. In the acceptance speech, Jason said, ‘Look how much God has given us. I’m just so thankful’.”
Anyone who makes the trip to New Ulm can visit the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame Museum and see the “artifacts” of the inductees, dating back to the first awards in 1989.
Notes Patty, “Our shelves are on the right-hand side when you first come into the building [museum], and Jeanne’s [display] is right through the hallway on the left. The people who run it are so wonderful, too. I asked Dodie Wendinger [former MMHOF Executive Director], ‘So, why New Ulm?’ And she said, ‘Because we were gonna created a polka museum… We realized, after doing some research, nobody’s ever created a Minnesota music place of history.’ So, they went the extra mile and created it. And Dody said, ‘It’s here because this is where we created it, and we’re keeping it.’
The Petersons did not get a “day” in honor of their induction, but Patty notes that “we got a certificate of recognition from Governor Tim Walz: ‘Recognition of accomplishments and dedication to the music in Minnesota, with appreciation and respect of the people of Minnesota.'”
“Count Your Blessings” at Hopkins
Although the Petersons have been performing a family holiday concert for about thirty years, it has never been easy to assemble even the majority of family musicians for rehearsals, let alone the concert itself. Sometimes a multi-night event, particularly at a smaller venue like The Dakota, this year’s holiday bash is one night, December 14, at the concert hall in the Hopkins Center for the Arts. With Jason touring with Michael Bolton, the show will feature the second generation–Linda, Ricky, Billy, Patty and Paul, along with cousin Russ Peterson.
Notes Patty, “From the places that we have performed, I think one of the first was at St. Joan of Arc, and then we were at the Guthrie for many years. We might have gone back to the Guthrie. But primarily we’ve been between Hopkins Center for the Arts and The Dakota. And one year we did a tour of the state of Minnesota, at a half dozen theaters, and it was a wonderful experience.” Recalls Linda, “That was a very fun experience. We had mom with us, still, and she was such a trooper. It was cold that year, too.” “Yes, and the heat went out in my car, I think,” adds Patty.
The 2019 Holiday concert marks a return to Hopkins for the Petersons, who have not performed there since Jeanne’s retirement concert. “We couldn’t really do a Christmas concert for a year or two [after her death],” notes Patty. “It felt really hard. So we called it The Jam Before Christmas [at The Dakota]. And we pulled in some other songs, too, which was really fun. And we got back to doing Christmas music in the last three or four years.
“Yeah, just had to have a little hiatus,” says Linda. “It was just too painful. And you come back to reality and know that mom would want us to do it, so we started up again.” Adds Patty, “We find clever ways to include her as well. No matter what we do, whether it’s songs my mother loved, or even this Christmas show we’ll find a way for Jeanne Arland to show up. We will be surprising ourselves, actually – how she’s going to show up this year.”
How does the venue impact the show, such as performing in a club like The Dakota versus a concert hall like Hopkins? “I believe each room has a different energy,” says Paul, “and a lot of that is how the room is set up. The Dakota is like playing in our living room. I think we are all very comfortable there, and although the show is not different, I believe it’s easier to be more vulnerable there than in a proper theater. Hopkins Center for the Arts holds many memories for me and my siblings. It was the last place we did a Christmas show with Mom. My kids were young, and they were involved in the concert like the third generation is now, and those memories are precious to me. Although Hopkins is much bigger, we are able to connect with our audience in very much the same way we do at The Dakota. We just can’t see everyone as well!”
The Hopkins Center for the Arts features a true concert setting, with seating for over 700. This will just be one show, at 8 pm, with Hopkins’ usual pre-concert cocktail hour at 7, when Peterson CDs will be for sale. Says Patty, “It’s going to be beautiful. It will be mostly a keyboard stage, because we’ve got the grand piano coming in. There’s the Hammond organ and then two electric keyboards, and then of course it will be piano, bass, drums, guitar and sax. Because of people’s tour schedules, I’m bringing along Sean Turner on keyboards, Phil Kadidlo also on keyboards because he does the strings and the horn arrangements, and Reid Kennedy on drums. So we’ll utilize them a little bit within the family, but for some of the songs that I’m doing, we need that kind of backup. And cousin [saxophonist, vocalist] Russ [Peterson] is with us. And he usually is, and he brings such a fun, silly and highly gifted aspect to the show. So we’re going to have one big happy family up on that stage, and I don’t know when we’ll ever do that again, but it’s going be a lot of fun.”
Adding to the usual seasonal fare, this concert will include songs from Patty’s just-released album of mostly holiday-themed songs, Count Your Blessings. Says Linda, “I’m so proud of the work she did, and so proud, of course, of my tune [‘I Am Thankful’] that she just did so beautifully… She said, ‘I would like an original tune, and you’re the songwriter of our family. Can you think about this for me, from a place of gratitude and thankfulness about my health and my growing family?’ And I thought, thank you for a great idea. Of course I’m always thankful for everything I have, but I don’t have grandchildren [Patty has seven], and I haven’t had a health scare, so it really brought it home to me how I could approach a song from her. My sister is the closest person to me in the world, you know – to write a song from her perspective. And I did that, and she loved it.”
“We performed it last year,” says Patty, “but we’re going to perform it again this year.” And it appears on the new CD, “with a debut by my grandchildren, notes Patty. “It speaks to the overwhelming love I feel on Christmas morning, and the gratitude I have for sharing it with my husband, my siblings, my children, and my grandchildren. They truly make me sing from my heart, and for that, I am grateful.” More tunes from the new release will be included in the holiday show this year. “The name of the CD is Count Your Blessings, the old Crosby tune, and I’ll be doing that one, and that’s the name of the concert as well,” notes Patty. There’s ‘No Place Like Home for the Holidays’, and then ‘Happy Holiday,’ which Peggy Lee made very famous, of course, and we have that connection with her because of mom and dad.
“Right,” adds Linda. “Dad was her pianist when he was still in high school, in Sev Olson’s band when she came through Minnesota all those years ago. And she kept in touch with mother, and got to meet her a few times.”
Adds Patty, “Linda’s got another original that’s going to be a part of it as well, and it’s on one of our CDs, and that one is called ‘It’s Christmas Time.’ And the guys have their stake in the game, too. There’s probably one of the most brilliant arrangements of ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ that they do in jazz waltz, and that’s Ricky/Billy/Paul. Paul’s got a real fun tune with a Louisiana vibe that he’s going to do. We’ll do some hymns. We’ll do some favorite tunes. We’ll bring along the grandkids (fourth generation).
And that’s one way the Peterson Family shows have changed — now the third generation is producing another! Notes Linda, “We got a new crop!” And they are growing up! Patty recalled a photo I took of her granddaughter Clara at a Dakota holiday show some years ago. “You have a wonderful picture of Clara at, gosh, three or four, with the red dress. She’s ten and tall, tall, tall. And Olivia, she’s 14–that is Billy’s granddaughter, Tracy’s daughter.” “And they both sing so well, these little girls, ” adds Linda. “And Sammy (12) plays great drums, Tracy’s son [Billy’s grandson], says Patty, “and we might have some tiny tikes get up and sing on the original Linda wrote for me. That would mean many of my 5 grandsons. Maybe even Maddie, who is Clara’s sister. We are missing the third generation this year, Jason’s generation.” [Billy’s daughter Tracy and Paul’s daughter Taylor are usually on stage with the family.]
Paul also values the opportunities the holiday shows have presented for the “third generation” (and now, the fourth!) to interact with the elders on stage. “It sure does remind me of having my kids in the show. I remember how important it was for [wife] Julie and me to have them in it. It’s one way we ‘throw our kids to the wolves,’ musically speaking. My brothers and sisters and I were all given opportunities at a young age, and I believe it set our course for the musicians/singers we are today. We want to give that same opportunity to the third generation. I know my kids still talk about their memories of past Christmas shows, and we feel it’s important to nurture that gift we’ve been given and allow these youngsters to shine!”
And it’s also a chance for the generations of Petersons to have some quality time with family and friends. Says Patty, “The thing we love is rehearsing at mom’s/Paul’s house, and it’s always centered around food, family and love. Adds Linda, We look forward to it every year.”
Paul notes that, “As we prepare for our annual Christmas concert, we look forward to the madness of the rehearsals, the spontaneity of the performance, but ultimately sharing our gift of music with our dear friends who come to see us. I believe they see and hear how much we mean to each other, and we hope that puts everyone in the holiday spirit. We never know how long we will be able to do this as a family, so every performance is special.”
A few tickets may remain for the Peterson Family’s “Count Your Blessings”. It’s not only an opportunity to enjoy some of the very finest musicians you’ll hear anywhere, but equally a chance to celebrate the holidays with family–yours and Minnesota’s First Family of Music.
The Hopkins Center for the Arts is located at 1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins; tickets at https://my.stagestheatre.org/hca/peterson .