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Celebrated Minnesota musician Peter Ostroushko dies at age 67

Ostroushko, who learned his craft in the Ukrainian community of Northeast Minneapolis, had a versatile career including performances with popular artists and orchestras
Ostroushko

Peter Ostroushko, whose mandolin and fiddle are woven into some of Minnesota’s most iconic recordings, has died. He was 67.

He died of heart failure Wednesday, his daughter, Anna Ostroushko, said on Facebook. 

“We have never known a better guy,” Anna Ostroushko said in her post. “Please listen to or play some music tonight in his honor.”

Raised in Northeast Minneapolis, where many Ukrainian families settled in the 1940s and ‘50s, Ostroushko was introduced to string instruments such as the mandolin, balalaika and bandura at a young age. He was also influenced by the Minneapolis West Bank folk scene, taking notes from musicians "Spider” John Koerner, Dave “Snaker” Ray and Tony “Little Sun” Glover. 

"Before I was even old enough to go to a bar, I used to go stand in front of the Triangle Bar ... They'd have the door open, and I could look up on the stage and listen and hear the musicians play," Ostroushko said in an episode of a podcast he began recording last year. "For me that was like going to church, standing out there, listening to these guys play music." 

At 21, he was pulled to record a mandolin track on “If You See Her, Say Hello,” for Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.” Soon afterwards, Garrison Keillor invited him to perform on "A Prairie Home Companion." Ostroushko ended up becoming a regular performer on the radio show for 40 years.  

"I did not know at this time that I had this conversation with Garrison that this was going to be a 40-year odyssey of me being on 'A Prairie Home Companion,' giving me the opportunity to become the best instrumentalist I could be on my given instruments," he said in the podcast. "It seemed like, from the first Saturday that we were on his show, that he played almost every next Saturday until the end of the year. We were on the show all the time. I guess he liked our fast fiddle music, that's all I can figure."

He released more than a dozen albums and played with the likes of Willie Nelson, Chet Atkins, Taj Mahal and Emmy Lou Harris, according to his teacher’s bio for the MacPhail Center of Music.

In addition to playing with popular folk artists, he also played Carnegie Hall with the Minnesota Orchestra. Groups including the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra in Moscow have performed his compositions.

His music has also appeared in films such as Ken Burns documentaries and the 2005 Twin Cities Public Television documentary series, “Minnesota: A History of the Land,” for which he earned a regional Emmy. His television appearances included “Austin City Limits,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

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