On April 7, legendary singer-songwriter John Prine died of complications from the COVID-19 coronavirus, his family confirmed to Billboard. The country folk singer was considered one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation.
His family revealed that he had tested positive for the virus on March 29 in a video message posted to social media. On April 3, his wife Fiona Whelan shared that he was in critical condition. She said: “This is hard news for us to share. But so many of you have loved and supported John over the years, we wanted to let you know, and give you the chance to send on more of that love and support now. And know that we love you, and John loves you.”
Here’s what you need to know about John Prine’s family:
1. He Was Married to Fiona Whelan Prine, Who Was Also His Manager
John Prine’s wife, Fiona Whelan, was born in Ireland on August 4, 1947. She worked in Dublin as a business manager for a recording studio and met John Prine at an after party in 1988 when he was on tour there. John previously explained in an interview how they met: “I was at this bar trying to get a drink, and I was 14 people back. I had my guitar with me. I couldn’t get to the front, so I went around to the other side.”
He continued, “And there was this Irish actress at the end — she said to me, ‘C’mere, John Prine, there’s someone I want you to meet.’ It was Fiona. Fiona said, ‘I saw you play when I was 17. When will I hear you next?’ And I said, ‘Right now,’ and walked up on stage with her and just started playing. And oh yeah, it was love at first sight.”
They stayed in touch and she eventually moved to Nashville in 1993 and they got married soon after.
2. They Have Two Sons Together, Tommy and Jack
The two welcomed their first child together, Jack, in 1994. A year later, they had a second son, Tommy. Of settling down and starting a family, John Prine said: “It put my feet right on the ground. I didn’t know that I was missing that until I found it. All of a sudden I felt normal with a capital N. I didn’t realize it, but it was something that I was striving for after years and years of being a total daydreamer.”
Tommy Prine is a singer as well. He’s posted some photos and videos on his Instagram singing songs, sometimes with his father John.
3. John Prine Adopted Jody Whelan, Fiona’s Son From a Previous Relationship
Soon after the birth of John and Fiona’s two sons, John formally adopted Jody Whelan, Fiona’s son from a previous relationship.
When John started Oh Boy Records in 1983, his wife soon took on a management role. Fiona then recruited Jody as the operations manager for the business and it truly became a family affair. According to their website, “Oh Boy is the second oldest artist owned independent label in the country, and the oldest in Nashville.”
4. The Family Became Involved in Supporting Thistle Farms in 2004
According to a profile on John and his wife, Fiona started supporting Thistle Farms in 2004. They are a Nashville-based organization that employs and supports survivors of prostitution, human trafficking and addiction. Fiona discovered the organization after Tommy became great friends with the son of the founder.
“This appeals to me on many levels,” Fiona explained. “These are women who are recovering from very many things. The fact that many of them came off the streets drug-addicted is part of their story, but not the whole story. I have connected with them my own journey of recovery from childhood trauma, my own alcohol abuse and the rest of it. It was a no-brainer.”
5. John Prine’s Parents Were William Prine and Verna Hamm of Kentucky
John Prine was born on October 10, 1946, to William Prine and Verna Hamm, who were both from Kentucky. John grew up in Chicago in the Maywood area and started playing guitar when he was 14. He took music classes at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music.
His father, Bill, was a tool-and-die maker and his mother was a homemaker. Tragically, his father died at 55 of a heart attack just one month before Prine’s first album was released, in 1971.