Christian van hemert

‘Minnesota Minstrel’ Jerry Rau, who died in October, brought folk music to street corners, cafes and clubs


In 1965, Jerry Rau was sent to fight in Vietnam. He came back as a guitarist with a passion for storytelling.

For more than four decades, the Minneapolis folk singer has performed on the streets, in coffee shops, clubs and many retirement homes in Minnesota and across the country.

“Her legacy is in her music,” said Jana Metge, a longtime friend. Rau, who suffered from prostate cancer and dementia, was 83 when he died on October 15 in West St. Paul.

Growing up in Minneapolis, Rau joined the Army Reserves at the age of 18 and enlisted in the Marines two years later, eventually landing in Vietnam. There he picked up an old guitar and finally learned “House of the Rising Sun” by playing it over and over again amid the sounds of war.

“It’s hard to explain the war to anyone,” he told the Minneapolis Interview Project – a compilation of oral histories of those who worked for social justice. “Friends of mine were killed.… It doesn’t go away. Every night in Vietnam was a horror show.”

These experiences found their way into his songs and led him to become a peace activist and one of the founders of the local Veterans for Peace chapter.

“Jerry has become a warrior in the fight to end wars,” said his longtime friend Ron Germundson. His songs often told the harsh reality of what it costs to be a soldier in wartime, he said.

Back in Minneapolis, he drove a cab but hated it, Rau explained in Interview Project.

“I decided to see if I could make some money playing guitar,” he said. “My wife hated it.”

But Rau followed his happiness and became a folk singer, Germundson said. It quickly became known as the “Minnesota Minstrel”.

“He wasn’t the flashiest musician, but he had soul,” said Bill Staines, a longtime friend and fellow folk musician.

However, not everyone was won over by his choice of career.

Rau’s youngest son, John, would often hear the derogatory tone when relatives asked him, “Does your father still play that guitar?” The unspoken question was, “Why isn’t he doing more with his life,” John remembers.

But during his visits to his father in Minnesota, John Rau, who grew up in Hawaii and continues to live there, realized that being a musician was exactly what his father wanted to do with his life.

“He was not a man who sought fame or fortune,” said John Rau. “He was just the most genuine person he could be.”

Unlike his sister and older brother, John Rau had a less complicated relationship with his father as he was only 4 when his parents divorced – too young to remember his father as a recently returned Marine. war or the upheaval of a family that has broken up. .

Instead, he fondly remembers turning 9 and spending the summer with his dad and bonding around baseball – a game his dad grew to love after seeing him for. the first time through the eyes of his son. John Rau’s visits also gave him insight into his father’s close musical community.

Denise Braus was a 16-year-old violinist when she joined this community, joining Jerry Rau’s band in 2000.

“My mom was a huge fan of Jerry’s music,” she said. “I listened to all of her CDs that my mom had.

“He left us such a gift,” Braus said. “He will live in his music and the stories he left behind.”

Besides his son, John, he is survived by a daughter, Joanne Dymond of Dallas; son James of San Francisco; seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Services have taken place.