Last updated: December 7, 2021

It is with great love and deep admiration that we dedicate the 2021 show to Rick Kuethe, a man of many talents. Prairie Nutcracker has been privileged for over 20 years to call him our treasured friend. He certainly led a life well-lived and has left his mark worldwide. Connections were very important to Rick. With his gift, we remain connected to him.

Frederick S. "Rick" Kuethe
December 25, 1946 - June 8, 2021

Pianist, Composer, His Music Evoked The Heartland

Rick Kuethe

Beloved pianist and Emmy-nominated composer, Rick Kuethe, whose music evoked the spirit of the Heartland, passed away peacefully at his home in Boston June 8, 2021. A native Nebraskan, Kuethe (pronounced Keeth-ee) was known for his melodic instrumental compositions and the profound emotions he could capture and convey musically. His many albums, including Nebraska Suite, The Child Within, Faces of Hope, Dance of the Cranes, and Christmas in Nebraska, drew inspiration from his memories of growing up on the Great Plains.

Rick Kuethe was born on Christmas Day, 1946. A gifted pianist from an early age, he grew up in Omaha, and was performing in international competition by age 15. He attended Omaha Central High School where he was editor of the school newspaper. After graduating from Grinnell College in Iowa, he studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music gaining a background in jazz, and later performing widely across the US and overseas. In 1980 he married his wife, Florri Aversa, a Boston school teacher. He began a successful recording studio business, expanded his career into composing for film and television, and produced eight albums featuring his own original music.

Kuethe's music attracted a devoted radio following. On tour, his solo concerts featured his diverse repertoire, wry sense of humor and knack for storytelling. Kuethe would often delight audiences with a special piece he composed to spotlight the place in which he was performing. "Dance of the Cranes" commemorated the annual return of the cranes to the Platte River near Grand Island. "The Canteen," from his album Heartland, honored the heroic World War II train stopover in North Platte where community members offered refreshments and cheer to over six million soldiers headed to the war or returning home.

In 2002 Kuethe was commissioned to perform and record the Tchaikovsky score of The Nutcracker for a ballet company in Hutchinson, KS. Their novel adaptation, Prairie Nutcracker, set in Kansas in 1869, was a colorful and touching story of prairie life. Moved by the ballet, Kuethe unexpectedly proposed a totally different approach — an original American-style score to match the Kansas story and setting — a score he would compose. The company, intrigued by his vision, embraced the new music and from its debut, Kuethe's new score drew enthusiastic reviews. Now a heartwarming fixture of the holiday season, Prairie Nutcracker is currently in its 20th year of production.

The spirit, scope, and genius of his original works set Rick Kuethe as a preeminent American composer, virtuoso musician and musical voice of the Heartland. Beyond his music, he is warmly remembered as a loving family member, a gifted energy-healing practitioner, author and lecturer, award-winning gardener, loyal sports fan, and dear friend.

He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Florri Aversa; his sisters: Jo Ann Grebenick of Omaha, Kathleen Wortman and her husband Mike of Lincoln NE, and Janet Noyes and her husband Peter of Silver Spring, MD; mother-in-law Mary Aversa, 106 years of age; sister and brother-in-law, Rosanne Aversa and Michael McCormick, all of Boston; many beloved nieces and nephews, their spouses and children. He was predeceased by his parents, Fred and Mary Jane (Hall) Kuethe; his infant brother, Johnny; and his brother-in-law, Kenneth Grebenick.

Memorial gifts in Rick Kuethe's name may be made to the Omaha Central High School Music Program, the Crane Trust, and the Nature Conservancy of Nebraska.

Published by Omaha World-Herald on Oct. 10, 2021.


Letter from Betsie Andrews, Director
June 15, 2021

George Andrews, Rick Kuethe, and Betsie Andrews at dinner - their first meeting.

My husband, George, Rick, and me taken at the Copley Plaza in Boston. It was the first time I met Rick, around 1985. He was the featured pianist playing at the Copley. His sister and my dear friend, Kathy Wortman, often spoke of her "famous brother." My husband George and I arranged to meet Rick on one of our yearly trips to Boston. From then on, we were fast friends, meeting at least yearly, to talk and dream of various projects, one of those projects became a reality: Prairie Nutcracker.

Dear Prairie Nutcracker Community and fans of Rick Kuethe,

Two nights ago Rick Kuethe's sister, Kathy Kuethe Wortman, called to tell me this sad news……that Rick, our beloved Prairie Nutcracker composer and dearest friend to all who were fortunate enough to meet, speak, and/or work with him…had passed from our sight…I could not accept that my cherished friend and composer of Prairie Nutcracker's score would no longer be with us at future performances, nor that the creative musical ideas we had dreamed on, would ever be heard.

Yet, we will continue to be inspired and motivated by his enormous gifts to us: his constant kindnesses, his overflowing generosity, his undying humor, his loving support to all, his many delightful CDs (Nebraska Suite, Child Within etc. etc. etc. ) and his letters (to me and the cast throughout these creative 20+ years.) His words will continue to embrace and buoy our steps in rehearsals and on stage. We can never be without our Rick Kuethe.

I treasure his words, via visits to his home and during his many visits to Kansas, as well as our ongoing creative calls and electronic communications. His spoken and written words to audiences, dancers and crew, along with his music will continue to feed us and future Prairie Nutcracker casts. He always talked about the kind of energy we needed as dancers to express his musical intentions. He will continue to be our inspiring rehearsal master, composer and conductor.

Rick, via his genius and musical gifts to us, is now immortalized in our hearts and hopefully his musical presence will be present in many more studios and stages throughout Kansas, throughout our country and the world, for, the music of Rick Kuethe IS Prairie Nutcracker. Rick's wife Florri who accompanied Rick during countless PN biennial performances and benefit concerts (for the restoration of Hutchinson's Fox Theatre) asked me, as director of Prairie Nutcracker to let "the community of Prairie Nutcracker know of Rick's passing."

Prairie Nutcracker debuted in 2000 at the Fox Theatre. It toured to Newton in 2001. In 2004 Rick debuted his Prairie Nutcracker score with the cast on tour in his hometown Omaha, Nebraska – at the high school where Rick graduated (formerly the State Capitol building). Since that tour, Rick and his wife Florri have attended most of Prairie Nutcracker's biennial performances in Hutchinson's Fox Theatre as well as two benefit concerts in support of Fox Theatre's restoration. Rick even composed a song about Hutchinson's grass root efforts to restore the glorious Fox in his piece "Curtain Call" on his Faces of Hope CD. Rick also volunteered his time to speak with grade school children during Prairie Nutcracker's school Informances held in the Fox theatre—Rick LOVED to talk to the students after making his entrance via sleigh during the snow scene. They adored him and he they.

Rick, you're ever with us. Our ever thanks.