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John Michael Talbot—the founder and leader of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage near Eureka Springs (Carroll County)—is one of the preeminent Catholic musicians in the world, with more than fifty albums to his name. He is also the founder of the Catholic Association of Musicians and the author of more than a dozen books on Christian meditations and music.
John Michael Talbot was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on May 8, 1954, to Jamie Margaret (Cochran) Talbot and Richard Talbot. The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) when Talbot was seven years old and then to Indianapolis, Indiana, two years later. Struggling to make friends in Indianapolis, the family started playing music as a way to be a part of the community. Talbot and his two siblings formed a band with two others, calling themselves the Quinchords with Talbot playing guitar, banjo, dobro, and several kinds of drums.
With changes to the lineup, the Quinchords became Four Score and then Sounds Unlimited, with Talbot on rhythm guitar and vocals. Talbot’s sister Tanni eventually dropped out, but Talbot and brother Terry remained band mates, eventually forming Mason Proffit around 1968. The folk-rock-country band performed with major bands, including Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, and Fleetwood Mac, and had hits such as “Two Hangmen” and “A Thousand and Two.”
Talbot, at age seventeen, married a woman named Nancy in Indianapolis in 1971; their daughter, Amy Noel, was born in 1974. The couple divorced a few years later.
Becoming disillusioned with rock and roll and believing that he had seen a vision of Christ holding out tattered monk’s robes to him, Talbot had his final tour with Mason Proffit in 1973. During that tour, the band played at the Ozark Mountain Folk Fair near Eureka Springs, and Talbot bought a parcel of land in the Ozark Mountains.
After recording an album with Terry as the Talbot Brothers for Warner Bros., Talbot began his career as a Christian recording artist with the newly formed Sparrow Records in 1976, recording his first solo album, John Michael Talbot. His second solo album was New Earth.
Following his divorce, Talbot’s religious study and spiritual searching eventually led him to Franciscan priest Martin Wolter at Alverna, a Franciscan retreat center near Indianapolis, where Talbot was living with his parents. In 1978, he became a Roman Catholic in the Third Order of St. Francis (this order of “Secular Franciscans” includes vowed and non-vowed members, as well as married couples). After recording one of his bestselling albums, The Lord’s Supper (1979), Talbot built a hermitage in the woods near Alverna, where he spent the winter of 1978–79, and he then went on a pilgrimage to the Middle East. Subsequent albums released on the Sparrow/Birdwing label were Come to the Quiet, The Painter, For the Bride, Troubadour of the Great King, Light Eternal, and No Longer Strangers. After a trip to Ireland in 1982, he recorded God of Life (1984), which featured Celtic-influenced music.
Wanting to build and lead a community, Talbot started a community called Charity, which was later renamed the Little Portion House of Prayer, at Alverna. In 1982, construction began on the land he owned in the Ozarks of what would become the Little Portion Hermitage and the Motherhouse of the community called the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. The Little Portion community moved to Eureka Springs the same year. The property was designed by noted Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones. Initial construction and landscaping were completed in 1983. The community is mostly self supporting, but Talbot’s music career is one of its main sources of income. Little Portion has a unique status in the U.S. Catholic Church, being a Church-approved community of celibate men, celibate women, and married couples.
Talbot’s first digital album, The Heart of the Shepherd, was released in 1987. Quiet Reflections (1987), The Regathering (1988), and Hiding Place (1990) followed.
After the annulment of his first marriage, and despite some controversy in the Catholic community, Talbot married former nun Viola Pratka on February 17, 1989; the marriage was blessed by Bishop Andrew McDonald of Little Rock. The state of their Franciscan vows was such that there was no religious reason the couple could not marry. Talbot’s biographer Dan O’Neill called Talbot and Pratka “examples of radical monastic living in Catholic marriage as well.”
Talbot continued to tour and release albums, including a series called Come Worship the Lord and a Christmas album recorded in London, England, with an orchestra and boys’ choir. In 1990, Talbot left Sparrow Records because he felt that money, rather than God, was too much the focus of contemporary Christian music. He started his own label, Troubadour For The Lord, in 1990, recording Master Musician (1992), Meditations in the Spirit (1993), and Meditations from Solitude (1994). In 1995, he embarked on a bus tour of the United States, and he subsequently recorded the six-disc Pathways (1998) instrumental project and Table of Plenty (1997), which included world music.
Around this time, Talbot instituted “Itinerant Prayer Walks,” the first being from the Little Portion Hermitage to Little Rock (about 200 miles). The walks are often done in conjunction with Talbot’s concerts. Talbot and the Little Portion Hermitage are supporters of Mercy Corps International, which provides emergency and humanitarian aid around the world. Talbot founded the Catholic Association of Musicians (CAM) in 1996; CAM’s annual conference is held at Little Portion Hermitage.
In addition to his work as a recording artist, Talbot has published more than a dozen books, including The Joy of Music Ministry (2001), The World Is My Cloister (2010), and The Universal Monk: The Way of the New Monastics (2011). In 2011, he released an album called Worship and Bow Down.
In 2001, EMI Records gave Talbot an award to recognize his twenty-five years of Christian music ministry. In 2005, Talbot was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
In 2014, Talbot launched a weekly television show, All Things Are Possible, on the Church Channel. Two years later, he published the book Monk Dynasty and released a new album, Inner Room.
For additional information:
John Michael Talbot. http://www.johnmichaeltalbot.com/ (accessed April 3, 2014).
O’Neill, Dan. Signatures: The Story of John Michael Talbot. Revised ed. Berryville, AR: Troubadour For The Lord Publishing, 2003.
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 12/13/2016
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