Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rita McNeil dies at age 68; Canada mourns loss of a music icon

Reproduced from CBC news
Rita MacNeil
Acclaimed Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, singer Rita MacNeil has died at age 68.

A notice on her website states MacNeil died on April 16 following complications from surgery.

Born in Big Pond, N.S., on Cape Breton Island, MacNeil was one of eight children.

She moved to Toronto at age 17, where she wrote her first song and began singing in folk clubs. MacNeil later moved to Ottawa, where she recorded three albums, but eventually returned to Big Pond, where she formed a trio.

MacNeil was famously shy, but said her parents helped her overcome that trait by constantly reminding her to believe in herself.

"You can be shy," she said. "You can work through all kinds of struggle. But somewhere deep down, you have to have belief or nothing's going to happen."

Cape Breton's first lady of song made her mark during a six-week run at Expo ’86 in Vancouver. In 1987 she earned a Juno award as most promising female artist, at age 42.

MacNeil recorded 24 albums and sold millions of records over the course of her career.

She hosted a CBC-TV variety program, Rita and Friends, which ran from 1994 to 1997 and drew regular audiences of one million viewers.

MacNeil was a member of the Order of Canada and the recipient of five honorary doctorates.

In 1986 she opened Rita’s Tea Room in her hometown of Big Pond, where she also gave performances.
Surprising investigation

In 2008, MacNeil said she was shocked to learn she had been investigated by the RCMP in the early 1970s because of her work with the women's movement. At the time, police were looking for communist connections.

"I had no reason to be under surveillance, believe you me," she laughed. "I was just the singer."

Through it all, she kept a positive outlook.

MacNeil inspired a generation of Cape Breton songwriters and performers. She encouraged young singers, even if she wasn't a fan of their voices.

"Who are we to say 'if you have a dream, don't waste your time,'" MacNeil said. "There are different degrees of the dream. Maybe they'll get to sing in a church or another place that keeps them very happy."

In Cape Breton, Joella Foulds said MacNeil was an icon. Foulds, the artistic director of the Celtic Colours Music Festival, performed with MacNeil.

"I think I've learned that you mustn't be afraid to express yourself," Foulds said. "You have to be who you are, and that was the essence of Rita. She was this wonderful, passionate person who had something to say."
Tributes pour in

MacNeil performed with a who's who of musicians from around the world.

"It was an honour for us to be able to know and work with such a prolific songwriter as Rita MacNeil," said the von Trapps, who toured with MacNeil in 2011. "She had such a generous heart, and great sense of humour."

In a stark contrast to her shy personality, MacNeil demonstrated that sense of humour when she made a cameo appearance on the television show The Trailer Park Boys.

MacNeil was often seen onstage with fellow Nova Scotian Anne Murray. Murray voiced her grief in a message on her Facebook page.

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of a dear sweet woman and a gifted singer-songwriter who represented women and her beloved Nova Scotia so eloquently in her songs," Murray wrote.

Former CBC television host Tommy Hunter also praised MacNeil's talent, especially when she sang the iconic song Working Man.

"Rita could convey that kind of warmth and sincerity through her songs to the people in the studio audience and to the viewers at home," Hunter said. "I have lost a good friend."

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai