Award-winning musician and long-time Richfield resident Jeanne Arland Peterson will be honored by the on Tuesday night for a lifetime of achievement in music.
Peterson turns 90 this month, and as part of celebrations surrounding her birthday she was nominated for the recognition by Council Member Pat Elliott.
Amongst her many awards, Peterson was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1992, the Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2005, and received the Arts Midwest Jazz Masters’ award in 1998. While in office, Governors Rudy Perpich and Arne Carlson both recognized her contributions to the state by declaring a day in her honor.
Peterson shared the stage with Bob Hope, Perry Como, Roy Eldridge and George Benson, among others, during her 75-year career.
How It All Began
Peterson was just three years old when she began playing piano, sounding out chords and melodies by ear. Although she didn’t begin formal training until the age of 15, music was always one of the pillars of Peterson’s life.
“My real education in music was listening to the good piano players, and that’s about it,” she said.
After being inspired by the work of pianists like Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum, Peterson’s first paying job in music came through her brother Donald Pouliot, a saxophonist.
“My brother Donald was in a band, and the female singer got married,” she said. “So I went down to his band, tried out, and got the job.”
The band leaders were doubly impressed when Peterson, after learning the band’s pianist didn’t know the number she wanted to sing at her audition, offered to play piano as well.
Peterson’s tryout with her brother’s band marked the beginning of a long and successful career. While still in high school she landed a job as a staff vocalist and pianist with WCCO Radio, where she would appear on popular programs that included Breakfast with Bob, As You Like It, WCCO Barn Dance, Show Boat and others. During her time at the station she worked with Bill Metchnek, Cedric Adams, Don Stolz, Toby Prin, Tony Grise and others.
Music continued to be a binding agent in Peterson’s personal life as well. She would head over to the Radisson after a day at WCCO Radio and hear her husband, pianist Willie Peterson, play with singer Peggy Lee.
“That was a lot of fun,” Peterson said. “We’d bring the kids up, and they’d get a kick out of it too.”
Peterson’s husband was later the first organist for the Minnesota Twins before passing in 1969. She took over his position, working as the Twins’ organist from 1969-1971.
Establishing Themselves in Richfield
Peterson and her husband originally chose to live in Richfield because it was “an up and coming city,” moving from Minneapolis in 1958. Peterson has lived in the same house ever since.
Home to a family of musicians—including all five of her children who have gone to their own renown in the music industry—the house has seen plenty of impressive traffic come through over the years.
Jeanne Peterson and her daughter Patty Peterson reported that Steve Miller, David Sanborn, Brenda Russell, Howard Roberts and Joe Sample are just a few of music’s luminaries who have visited the Richfield home.
"This is the place where we all rehearsed ... both Mom and Dad, when they would have jam sessions and rehearsals downstairs," Patty Peterson recalled. "And then when [all of us kids] would get in bands, she was always fine with it."
Jeanne Peterson continues to play piano, although she said there’s not as much work these days. She plays private parties occasionally, and likes to visit live music nights at .
“We’re big fans of the music there,” she said.
Several of Jeanne Peterson’s favorite songs to play on piano remain “All the Things You Are” and “Body and Soul,” although she says you can’t ever go wrong with Gershwin. She said it's music, in general, that remains important to her.
“Music is something I couldn’t do without,” she said. “My husband had the same gift, and my five children have the gift, so it’s a great love.”
In addition to her music career, Peterson has worked with the charitable foundation The Arc Minnesota, which promotes and protects the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is also a long-time attendant at St. Peter’s parish in Richfield.
After being honored at Tuesday’s Richfield City Council meeting, the Peterson family will play at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Old Log Theater in celebration of Peterson “Matriarch” Jeanne’s birthday. The show will be followed by a reception in the theater’s lobby. Those interested in tickets may contact the theater by phone or via her website. Individuals interested in finding out more about Jeanne Arland Peterson may also visit her website.