Musician Jack Pearson sometimes sang: “If us kids ran the world, everything would be fine.”
The line came at the end of a tune about Velcro, a particularly kid-friendly invention, and Pearson’s pronoun choice was fitting for a man who never seemed to abandon his childhood imagination. His songs and stories about everything from the enormity of a googolplex to the ferocity of mosquitoes brought smiles to generations of Minnesotans.
Pearson, of Minneapolis, died in January of lymphatic cancer. He was 63.
Mr. Song-Strummin’ Storyman — his professional moniker — spent nearly four decades carting his one-man show to schools, churches and libraries around the state. Clad in colorful suspenders and toting a guitar or a banjo, Pearson was such an institution that parents and teachers in his audiences sometimes remembered him from their own youth.
“He’s kind of like a combination of Mr. Rogers, Pete Seeger and Jesus Christ … rolled into one,” said his wife, Nancy Pearson.
Jack Pearson was born in California and raised in Alexandria, Minn., and Minneapolis, the son of a Lutheran minister and a pianist. He taught music at the Podium in Dinkytown around the time he attended the University of Minnesota, then decided to pursue a career as a musician.
“We sent out I think 3,000 school brochures to every elementary school in the state of Minnesota advertising lyceums that didn’t even exist, except in Jack’s imagination,” Nancy Pearson said.
His performances ranged from school assemblies on bullying and the environment to church shows weaving together the Gospel and acoustic folk rhythms. Over the years, he recorded 17 albums.
“In his songs that he wrote and his performances, he managed to say some really important things, but with such a light touch that you didn’t feel impinged on — you just felt taught,” said Jim Gertmenian, who recently retired as pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.
For example, the song “To All the Purple Tree Trunks” emphasized that it’s OK to paint outside the lines with unusual colors: “You were raised to be normal but never felt it inside/ So like the rest of us weirdos you learned how to hide/ But come out long enough now to hear what I say/ Being weird has its own problems/ But in the meantime you’re really OK.”
“Nothing about the world is obvious when you’re young,” said Jack’s son, Peter Pearson, now a children’s book author. “He would not brush off … very fundamental childlike inquiries [about] why things are the way they are.”
On top of the guitar and the banjo, Jack Pearson was fluent in the fiddle, mandolin, spoons and jaw harp. A Google search for “jaw harp” returns Pearson’s five-minute tutorial of how to use one among the top results — the video has more than 773,000 views on YouTube.
Then there was the amplified toy box lid, Pearson’s most unusual instrument. Pearson routed microphones into the lid of his children’s toy box, then attached an abrasive material to the wood and the bottom of some slippers. He stood on top of the box to play it.
“You could tap your feet or you could kind of shuffle them,” Peter Pearson said. “So he would play and sing and then also be dancing.”
Outside of his music, Pearson was an avid rock collector, a voracious reader and loved woodworking.
Pearson is survived by his wife Nancy, children Kari and Peter of Minneapolis, mother Jerry of Edina, brother Randy of Australia and sisters Kathy Pederson of Edina and Jeanne Pearson of California. A memorial honoring Pearson’s life will be held at 2 p.m. May 6 at St. Joan of Arc Church, 4537 3rd Av. S., in Minneapolis.