As one of the Minnesota’s most respected folklorists, John presented concerts and programs that brought to life the heritage and lore of theUpper Midwest. From lumberjack ballads to miners’ laments, folk melodies from Scandinavian, Finnish and Slavic immigrants to songs about people and places, John shared a lifelong collection of music and stories with his audiences.
He played the guitar, mandolin, 2 and 4 row button accordions, and he sang in a rich, warm baritone. His stories about the songs he sang, the people who sang them, and the heritage they represent are memorable vignettes of life in America’s northern heartland.
A native Minnesotan of Norwegian and Swedish descent, he toured Europe and performed at festivals all across America. He appeared on television and radio in Germany, Switzerland, France, as well as in the United States and Canada. In the late 2000s, he moved back to Minnesota after a decade in Chicago, where he was the leader of Chicago’s premier Scandinavian band, the South Side Swedes and was an instructor working with teens in Chicago’s After School Matters Program.
He participated in the prestigious Norsk Musik Vekke at Ål, Hallingdal, in Norway. He was a featured instructor and performer at the AmeriKappleik, America’s largest gathering of Norwegian folk dancers and musicians, in Northfield, MN, sponsored by the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America. He was the former Folk Arts Program Associate with the Minnesota State Arts Board, served as a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Program, worked as folk music consultant for the Cousteau Society, produced several public radio documentaries, and was a folklife consultant for several television documentaries and films. He once taught Jessica Lange how to sing a Finnish birthday song for the film “Far North.”
During the summer of 2005, John coordinated both the concert and banquet programs for the Centenary of the IWW in Chicago. He performed at the Two Harbors Folk Festival in Minnesota, the Jamestown, New York, Scandinavian Festival, the Mohegan Storytelling Festival in the Hudson River Valley, the Bishop Hill Midsummer Festival in Illinois, Midsommar Fest at Lindsborg, KS, the 2008 FunnFest in Duluth, MN and many other festivals. He released 9 recordings, the most recent, “John Berquist and the South Sides Swedes: Scandinavian Music from Chicago.”
John Berquist passed away on May 12th, 2016.