The Petersons - Minnesota's First Family of Music

The Peterson family was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame Nov. 1. Pictured with third-generation musician Jason Peterson DeLaire (back row, left), the Peterson siblings are (from left to right, back to front) Paul, Billy, Linda, Ricky and Patty. (Submitted photo)

The group of entertainers known as “Minnesota’s First Family of Music” is in familiar company as the newest members of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.

The Peterson family made the trip to New Ulm for the induction ceremony Nov. 1, joining a list of hall-of-famers that includes family matriarch Jeanne Arland Peterson and none other than Prince, with whom some of the siblings collaborated during their illustrious careers.

“We’re beyond honored,” Paul Peterson told the Sun Current over the phone as he and his sister Patty took a break from crafting their acceptance speech. “We never thought that one day we’d be sitting here talking to you about being in a hall of fame.”

The two siblings were meeting last week in the Richfield home where they grew up bathed in music. Their father, Willie Peterson, wrote commercial radio jingles while running a booking and events business. Their mother performed as a staff vocalist and pianist for WCCO-AM, becoming known among some as Minnesota’s “first lady of jazz.”

Willie and Jeanne Peterson passed on their love of jazz to their children, Linda, Billy, Patty, Ricky and Paul. All five went on to make a living as musicians, working with some of the most well-known talents in the business, such as Bob Dylan, Steve Miller, The Time, Kenny Loggins, Michael Bolton, David Sanborn, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, and of course, Prince.

Paul Peterson, who records under the name St. Paul Peterson, was a teenager when he met Prince in 1983, going on to become the lead singer for the Prince-backed band The Family. Ricky Peterson worked as a producer for Prince, with credits including “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”

Such talent came out of a house where playing music was as natural as breathing, Paul Peterson remembers.

“I don’t think we initially thought about it growing up,” he said. “We thought everybody was musicians. We didn’t realize what an incredible blessing it was to have the musical family we have.”

Although some of Petersons are often on tour with world-renowned acts, the siblings all live in Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs. Paul Peterson moved back into his childhood home about five years ago after raising a family in Edina. Patty Peterson also raised a family in Edina before recently moving a short distance to Minneapolis.

“We decided that working in the Twin Cities is what we wanted to do,” she said.

Their childhood in Richfield was tinged with tragedy. One of the Peterson siblings, Brian Jeffrey, died of Leukemia five days before his second birthday. Willie Peterson, the family patriarch, died of colon cancer at the age of 46. Having served as the organist for the Minnesota Twins, he died on Opening Day of the 1969 Major League Baseball season.

His widow, Jeanne, took over the Twins organ for three years and would continue performing throughout her life. She played her retirement concert shortly before dying of natural causes in 2013.

“She was 91 years old, and she played the heck out of that piano, and she was gone six months later,” Patty Peterson said.

An active recording artist and host on local Jazz station KBEM-FM, she calls music “the greatest soul soother.”

“God, family, love and music – that’s what’s kept us together through the hard times and the good times,” Patty Peterson said.

When they aren’t out on tour, the Peterson siblings still gather in their childhood home to, as Paul Peterson calls it, “break bread and make music.”

As the Petersons continue focusing on their musical legacy, they oversee the Peterson Family Scholarship at the University of Minnesota’s jazz studies program.

Their music bug has spread within the family, too, as third and fourth generations of musicians have taken the stage. That includes Linda Peterson’s son, Jason Peterson DeLaire, who is currently touring as Michael Bolton’s saxophonist.

The Petersons will come together Dec. 14 for the annual Peterson Holiday Christmas Show at Hopkins Center for the Arts, returning to the venue where Jeanne Peterson played her final concert.

The Petersons still take after the matriarch in that they can’t seem to quit performing.

“I don’t think we could not do it,” Patty Peterson said. “It’s so much a part of who we are.”

– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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