Melding cool and hot, sweet and salty, and midwestern and sexy, Prairie Fire Lady Choir has been breaking the mold of women’s a cappella excellence in the Twin Cities for over a decade. Described as a “rock ’n’ roll-flavored vocal group balanc(ing) cool, casual fun with rich emotional depth” by Chris Riemenschneider of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Prairie Fire has a history of attracting members from a variety of backgrounds, collaborating with a diverse group of local musicians, and raising their voices in song at a multitude of local venues.
The choir was founded in 2010 by two coworkers at Minnesota Public Radio, Jacquie Fuller and Molly Balcom Raleigh, who as legend has it once said to one another over the walls of their cubicles “It would be so cool to start a lady choir.” As Molly recalled, Jacquie shared an article from Bust about the L.A. Ladies Choir started by Becky Stark, a.k.a. Lavender Diamond, and the two were inspired to develop something similar here. The choir’s first gathering was in the living room of Jacquie’s Longfellow apartment, where they sang classics like Tom Waits’ “Picture In a Frame” and The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” One of the early coalescing moments for the choir was the opportunity to perform Molly’s original composition “Floodplain Ballad” at the Northern Spark Festival, which featured performances aboard the Jonathan Padelford riverboat called the Mississippi Megalops. “Floodplain” remains a standard regularly performed by the choir today.
Prairie Fire’s choice of performance locales has continued to span the traditional and the eclectic throughout their history. Among the many classic venues where the choir has appeared are the Triple Rock Social Club, the Turf Club, the Amsterdam, the Fitzgerald Theater, the Parkway Theater, and the Cedar Cultural Center. Prairie Fire has also performed regularly as part of an annual David Bowie tribute show “Rock for Pussy” at First Avenue and opened for Dessa at Orchestra Hall singing the song “Hive” written for them and conducted by local artist Aby Wolf. Some of the more unique opportunities the choir has had to perform include Art Shanties (an annual festival held on frozen lakes), the Garlic Festival, the Prince Memorial Street Party and Franconia Sculpture Park. Prairie Fire has also sung the national anthem for a wide variety of sporting events including the St. Paul Saints, the Minnesota Lynx, and a Rollergirls bout. The choir is particularly proud of many opportunities they have had to sing in support of social justice causes, such as Twin Cities Pride, the 2017 Women’s March, Planned Parenthood, and MN Women are Not For Sale.
Performing and partnering with local artists has been a hallmark of Prairie Fire Lady Choir. Early collaborations included Niki Beverly, the Como Avenue Jug Band, Matt Latterell, and the Roe Family Singers, including recording on their “Heaven Send us Better Times” album. Working with Aby Wolf was a result of a song-writing grant received through the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council in 2013, and similarly the choir received a grant in 2017 to work with Chris Koza. In 2019 the choir had the opportunity to sing backup on Katy Vernon’s album “Suit of Hearts” and performed with her at her CD release party at the Parkway Theater. The 2019 season closed with an outstanding collaboration with PaviElle, performing her original arrangements of the songs “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Heart’s “Magic Man.”
Prairie Fire Lady Choir leverages the talents of its members to be entirely self-run, providing an encouraging environment for development and growth. Choir members arrange all of their own music, volunteer to lead rehearsals, develop marketing and merchandising, manage the choir’s finances, identify and plan gigs, and organize social justice and inclusion efforts. The choir’s governance includes a board of “Red Hot Coals” who lead and make decisions on behalf of the choir, one of which was the pursuit of becoming a 501c3 non-profit organization. Importantly, experience is not required to fill these leadership roles – only a willingness to learn and step into responsibility. Thus, Prairie Fire’s history is not only one of incredible music, but also nurturing and supporting what is incredible about each one of the women who are a part of this spectacular group.