Nearly three months since his death (and a week since he scored his first number one song on a Billboard chart), folk singer John Prine has been named the first honorary poet laureate of the state of Illinois. Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the news on Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
“He leaves behind an unparalleled musical legacy and was beloved by family and millions of fans who hope that in Heaven he finds Paradise waitin’ just as he longed for,” Pritzker said, quoting Prine’s 1971 song “Paradise.”
Prine was an Illinois mailman when legendary film critic Roger Ebert happened to catch a set by the songwriter in October of 1970. Ebert went on to write a review of the performance, a simple act that helped set the stage for the next 50 years of Prine’s career.
“I have no doubt that John would be proud and delighted to receive this recognition from his home state of Illinois,” Fiona Whelan Prine, the singer’s wife and manager, said in a statement. “Although he had moved to Nashville in the early Eighties, he continued to visit Chicago, and Maywood in particular, to spend time with his family.
She continued, “John continued to follow Chicago sports teams and had never found a hot dog, pizza or Italian beef sandwich to rival the originals. Watching John, as I did many times, play to an Illinois audience was always thrilling. A home boy delighting in the love and approval of his loyal fans—some of them family, long-time friends, old school buddies and neighbors.”
Prine’s death from COVID-19 in April resulted in an outpouring of covers from the young artists he inspired and the old colleagues with whom he once shared a stage. Just this week, Punisher songwriter Phoebe Bridgers shared her own cover of Prine’s “Summer’s End.” Hear that below.