5 things you didn't know about Chris Thile

Chris Thile
Chris Thile at the MPR Studios on Feb. 5, 2015.
Nate Ryan | MPR

It's OK to admit the truth. You didn't recognize the name Chris Thile, either.

The mandolin virtuoso is set to become the new host of the popular "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show in September 2016. Earlier this week, show creator and longtime host Garrison Keillor, 72, made official his intention to step down.

Thile has the presence, and the musical chops to carry the show, Keillor told MPR News this week.

"He is, I think, the great bluegrass performer of our time and he is a beautiful jazz player," Keillor said. "There just isn't anything he can't do — and he is very enthusiastic about live radio."

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Until the changing of the guard takes place next fall, here are a few things to know about Thile.

Musician Chris Thile
Chris Thile participated in a Q&A following a screening of "Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of 'Inside Llewyn Davis'" in New York City in 2013.
Michael N. Todaro | Getty Images for CBS Films 2013

1) Here's how to pronounce his last name.

Thile's last name sounds like "THEE-lee" with the "th" in the word "thumb" when said correctly.

Thile introduces himself in this 2012 video. Take a listen about eight seconds in to hear him say his name.

2) He performed on "A Prairie Home Companion" at the age of 15.

Thile, now 34, made his first appearance on the show in 1996. By then, he had already been playing the mandolin for a decade.

"I was 5 years old when I actually picked up the mandolin for the first time and started plunking," he said in a 2012 interview. "But I'd been begging my parents for a mandolin from the time I was 2."

More recently, Thile was the guest host for "A Prairie Home Companion" in February. Not including the guest host spots, Thile has appeared on the show a total of nine times, according to the program's website.

3) Thile is something of a genius.

He was among 23 people awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship — "genius grant" — in 2012. The annual prize is awarded to individuals who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work" and are citizens or residents of the United States.

"I'm trying to find the middle between music that's visceral and music that's cerebral," said Thile in an interview after winning the fellowship. "I want to be transportive. I want a new perspective on what it means to be alive."

4) He joined his first band at the age of 8.

Thile and siblings Sara and Sean Watkins came together as Nickel Creek in 1989 in California. The band — initally named The Nickel Creek Band — released its first album in 1993 and frequented bluegrass festivals throughout the 1990s. All three of the band's members were home-schooled, to make touring a little easier.

In 1994, Thile released his first solo album "Leading Off."

Thile currently collaborates with an assortment of musicians and leads the acoustic folk quintet Punch Brothers.

5) Thile has won four Grammy Awards.

Musicians Edgar Meyer, left, and Chris Thile
Musician Chris Thile, right, accepted an award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for "Bass & Mandolin" during the Grammy Awards earlier this year. Also pictured is musician Edgar Meyer, left.
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images file

His first Grammy came in 1997 for Best Bluegrass Album for "True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe." Thile also won in 2002 for Best Contemporary Folk Album for "This Side" with Nickel Creek, in 2013 for Best Folk Album for "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer and most recently for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for "Bass & Mandolin" with Edgar Meyer.

Thile has received four other Grammy Award nominations and picked up the BBC's Folk Musician of the Year award in 2007.

By all accounts, his prowess with the mandolin is impressive. Give a listen to Thile performing a Johann Sebastian Bach sonata.