News: Chili/Marshfield - Carrying on a Musical Legacy (2019)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Johnson, Wolf, Elmhorst, Bay, McNeill

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 12/04/2019

Carrying on a Musical Legacy

MPK Band continues to perform after loss of band founder and mother

Deb Johnson was the founder of MPK Christian Celtic Band
And mother and grandmother to its members.

By Valerie Brecht

After a tragic accident led to the passing of one of its members, a local family band has chosen to continue making music in her honor.

“We can’t replace her, but we can keep her sound alive in our music,” said band member Dawn Wolf.

Dawn, from Chili, is a part of MPK Christian Celtic Band, a group that performs original and traditional tunes, blending rich harmonies with traditional Celtic airs and flying fiddles. Five family members combine guitar, keyboards, Irish whistles, flutes, drums, fiddles and more in new and traditional ways. Their music is centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

MPK stands for “Mama and the Preacher’s Kids.” Deb Johnson, the “mama” of the band, played the guitar throughout her life. By the time she was a freshman in high school, she was winning awards for her guitar playing. She was even judged by Mel Bay. Deb passed on her love of music to her kids and encouraged them take music lessons from a young age.

In 2006, Deb’s husband, Pastor Ron Johnson started researching his Scottish heritage and the McNeil clan. It was then that Deb listened to and got hooked on Scottish Fiddling.

“Mom just had to learn violin,” said Dawn, Deb’s daughter. “And the band just kind of happened.”

Deb already regularly played music with Dawn and her two other daughters, Maranatha Elmhorst and Joanna Johnson, who were teenagers at the time. Deb’s grandson (Dawn’s son) Noah Wolf was also part of the group. They all readily took to playing Celtic music.

They released their first CD, “Cling,” in February 2006. Since then, the band has released five more albums, the most recent of which came out in December 2018.

Deb played classical and electrical guitar and violin and performed vocals for the group. She also wrote many original songs. Ron served as the master of ceremonies and Scottish historian for the band.

However, a sudden accident changed all that. On Sept. 18, Deb and Ron were in a motorcycle crash. Deb was killed and Ron sustained multiple injuries, including many broken bones.

“It was a traumatic shock,” said Dawn. “It was a shock, but there was an underlying supernatural faith of knowing that God had to be in charge. In the midst of the deep grief and sadness, there was the understanding that Jesus would do something.”

After the initial shock, thoughts naturally turned to the band and what was going to happen with it. Deb had already booked three concerts, one in October and two more in December. Dawn said Ron promoted the band to still perform their concerts.

“That was all Dad,” she said. “It was never a question. Even when he was in a room in the ICU after the accident he told us ‘You’re doing those concerts.’”

Joanna echoed those sentiments.

“Dad said, ‘You have to keep playing’ and we said we will,” she said in an interview for WEAU earlier this year. “And we just have to carry on the music she put in us. It was from the Lord, but nurtured by her and her love for it, her love for us, which spills out to each other. We want to carry on her love for us to everyone else.”

In the midst of grief, MPK went ahead and performed. Their October concert was a “Mama Memorial,” a time of remembering and sharing about Deb’s life. They performed several of Deb’s original tunes, like “He’s Not Passing You By” and “Trees of Righteousness.” They made a point of singing her parts in the songs.

“It was a treasured time to celebrate Mom,” said Dawn. “I think we’re going to celebrate Mom forever. She made us who we are.”

Dawn said Deb always encouraged the family in their musical pursuits and told them they could do it.

The band members are each musicians in their own right. Dawn is a songwriter and vocalist and performs on flute and Irish whistles. Maranatha is a vocalist, keyboardist, dancer and songwriter. Joanna, the 2017 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion, is a vocalist, violinist, dancer and songwriter. Noah performs on djembe, bodhran, drum, accordion, keyboard and bagpipes and writes songs.

MPK Christian Celtic Band’s members are from Chili and Marshfield, and include (l-r) Ella Wolf, Joanna Johnson, Noah Wolf, Dawn Wolf and Maranatha Elmhorst. Submitted photos

Maranatha’s husband Vince is the photographer and sound tech for the band.

Since Deb’s passing, the family has come to realize even more how much of a role she played in their lives, as well as in the continuation of the band. Deb saw the band as an opportunity to minister to others through music.

“She was the visionary. She was driven. She had the deepest heart for the band, and it was infectious,” said Dawn.

Logistically, the band has had to adapt with being down a member.

“Before, Maranatha [on keyboard] and Deb [on guitar] were the bedrock of the band. Now it’s Maranatha,” said Dawn. “Which is a lot of bands have the keyboard as the foundation, but it’s definitely going to be new.”

Dawn’s daughter Ella has taken on a more of a role in the band. She used to fill in occasionally with fiddling, but now has been joining in more regularly, including on vocals.

The band is finding ways to keep Deb’s sound as part of their music.

“We might start playing to backtracks because Noah has all the tracks that Deb recorded in the studio and they’re professionally recorded tracks. When you look at all the bands with a big sound, in concert they all play along to backtracks,” said Dawn. “So, Noah’s pushing us in that direction.”

“It will be a learning curve as we redistribute roles, but we’re going to keep doing music. We’re going to keep moving forward. We see some new doors opening and it’ll be exciting to see what the future holds.”

With that in mind, MPK has two concerts planned for December. They will perform selections from their most recent album, “Sweet Impossible Christmas.”

The concert will be Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Chestnut Center for the Arts, 208 S. Chestnut Avenue, Marshfield, from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

The second concert will be Saturday, Dec. 21, at the Centralia Center, 220 3rd Avenue S. #2, Wisconsin Rapids. This concert will also be from 4 to 5:30 p.m. People should enter the Wisconsin Rapids Community Theater auditorium entrance, which is next to the Centralia Center. Tickets are available in advance and at the door.

At the concerts, people will have the opportunity to support Uttermost Ministries. An outreach of Our Father’s House Christian Community Church. Uttermost Ministries’ mission is to “help Ugandans help Ugandans” by partnering with Grace Fellowship Church in Kampala and the Karamoja Christian Ethnoveterinary Program. People will be able to purchase handcrafted jewelry or other items made by widows to support Uttermost Ministries.

For more information on MPK, visit



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