Thursday, 18 April 2013

Rita MacNeil dies at age 68

Rita MacNeil dies at age 68

Rita MacNeil, the acclaimed Cape Breton, Canadian singer has died at age 68. A notice on her website states MacNeil died on April 16 following complications from an undisclosed surgery.
Some of her most popular songs include, “Working Man,” “Flying on Your Own,” “Reason to Believe,” “I’ll Accept The Rose Tonight” and “Home I’ll Be.”
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.
The singer and former CBC-TV star from Big Pond, N.S., inspired dozens of young songwriters and performers after her big break in the 1980s. She encouraged them even if she wasn't a fan of their voices.
Rita MacNeil - Photos (Jacques Boissinot, John Felstead /Canadian Press)
 / (CBC Still Photo Collection) / (Library and Archives Canada)
CLICK to Enlarge
  • Born May 28, 1944 Big Pond, Nova Scotia  / Died April 16, 2013 (aged 68) Sydney, Nova Scotia
  • She was one of eight children. Her chaotic early years in Cape Breton included the trauma of surgery to overcome a cleft palate, a love affair that left her with a child, a marriage breakdown and a frustrating period trying to develop a music career.
  • In 1962 she relocated to Toronto at age 17. Once there, she endured a succession of low-paying jobs, including a retail gig at Eaton’s and a stint as a cleaning woman.
  • She had two children Laura and Wade, she would eventually divorce their father
  • Years active in music: 1975 – 2013. Aside from her famously melancholy ballads about Cape Breton coal miners, MacNeil’s musical repertoire included an eclectic blend of folk, country, blues, roots, Celtic and rock.
  • In 1975 she recorded her first album, the independent release “Born a Woman
  • Her biggest hit, "Flying On Your Own" (>> Video), was a crossover Top 40 hit in 1987 and was covered by Anne Murray the following year.
  • In the United Kingdom, MacNeil's song "Working Man" was a No. 11 hit in 1990, it spent 11 weeks on the chart.
  • In 1987, at age 42, MacNeil won “Most Promising Female Vocalist” her first of three Juno Awards
  • In 1990, she was the bestselling country artist in Canada, outselling Garth Brooks.
  • She won the Fans' Choice Award at the 1991 and 1992 CCMA Awards (Canadian Country Music Association) and her albums “Rita” (1990) and “Home I'll Be” (1991) won the Top Selling Album award.
  • In 1992 MacNeil was invested as a member of the Order of Canada by Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn in Ottawa
  • From 1994 to 1997 MacNeil hosted the CBC Television variety show “Rita and Friends” and featured many musical artists, it won a Gemini Award in 1996.
  • Her autobiography, “On a Personal Note”, was published in 1998 and disclosed her years of sexual abuse by an uncle.
  • In 2005 MacNeil was also given the Order of Nova Scotia.
  • Feb. 20, 2005 she was awarded with an ECMA (East Coast Music Award) Lifetime Achievement Award in Sydney, Nova Scotia
  • She was the only female singer ever to have three separate albums chart in the same year in Australia.
  • She recorded 24 albums and sold millions of records over the course of her career.
  • Platinum certified albums by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA): 1987 “Flying On Your Own” (2×); 1988 “Reason to Believe” (2×); “Now the Bells Ring” (3×); 1989 “Rita” (2×); 1990 “Home I'll Be” (2×)
  • Her last performance was in March 2013 at the East Coast Music Awards at "The Celebration Of Sound"
  • MacNeil leaves behind a son and a daughter, as well as grandchildren.
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."
When I’m out onstage I’m not alone, so it’s still intimidating. You know, as corny as that sounds, on the eve of my 60th birthday it hasn’t changed and I don’t suspect it ever will.” said Rita

Her turning point: It came when she made her mark during a six-week run at Expo '86 in Vancouver. At the time, MacNeil was well-known in her home province but a newcomer to the national stage.
"Word of mouth kind of grew," said Rod Mickleburgh of the Globe and Mail. He said review after review praised her performance, and that summer sparked a love affair between MacNeil and Vancouver.
He finally saw her on Canada Day, 1986, when she performed Working Man with Men of the Deeps
There probably wasn't a dry eye in the house," he said. "I mean, it just moved me to tears. I never heard a song quite like it."
Rita MacNeil

MacNeil's voice brought people to tears across the country. Her first manager, Brookes Diamond, choked up as he spoke Wednesday about the first time he heard her perform. He was with his brother at the time.
"It was quite a picture, we were in a field at a folk festival," he said. "This voice came through the rain, mist, and we both stopped. We were riding on a dirt bike and the two of us were in tears."
"Rita really was a star," Diamond said. "I think her humility and her wisdom were the two outstanding characteristics that I always appreciated."

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."
Family shocked - Brian Edwards worked with MacNeil through more than 400 performances over 25 years. Over the years, he said, she never changed — always greeting people with a hug and a big grin.MacNeil's promoter and agent, said he couldn't believe it when he was told of her death.
He said MacNeil was a soldier who always defied the odds. She had been in hospital battling an infection.
"I'm not sure whether they've labelled what the infection is," he said, speaking on behalf of MacNeil's family. "It was certainly not ongoing type of stuff that had existed for years." Edwards said the infection returned after MacNeil had an operation. She was unconscious but was starting to recover before her death.

Unlikely Star Had Powerful Voice, 'Generous Heart' by Nick Patch, The Canadian Press read the full article at:


Sydney, NS (April 17, 2013) It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Cape Breton’s first lady of song, Rita MacNeil. Rita died last evening (April 16th) from complications following surgery, at the age of 68.

A gentle soul with a heart of gold and the voice of an angel, Rita’s music spoke of her love of home and family, the courage to rise above life’s challenges and the hardworking men and women that tie this country together. “Working Man”, “Flying on Your Own”, Reason to Believe”, “I’ll Accept The Rose Tonight” and “Home I’ll Be”, are just a few of the songs that endeared Rita to fans in Canada, the U.K and Australia.

Born in Big Pond, Cape Breton on May 28th, 1944 to Neil and Catherine (Rene) MacNeil, Rita was one of eight children. It wasn’t an easy life, as depicted in her autobiography “On A Personal Note”(released in 1998), but with determination and a passion for writing songs and singing, Rita pushed beyond a profound shyness and found her way to a stage at Expo 86 in Vancouver. It was here that the world discovered Rita MacNeil
A folksinger/songwriter since she was 17, Rita MacNeil recorded the independent album “Born a Woman” in 1975. Two more independent LPs followed (Part of the Mystery in 1981 and I'm Not What I Seem in 1983) before she signed with Virgin and
released Flying on Your Own in 1987. ........Read more

Music is timeless and ageless,” noted the legendary singer, “the passion I feel for what I do can’t be put aside with a number and a year. It is a big part of my life – the concerts, the touring, the letters and the joy the audience gives back to me when the music touches a chord with them.” Rita MacNeil


Remembering Rita MacNeil: East Coast Music Association Executive Director Scott Burke shares his memories of Rita MacNeil, who passed away on April 16 -

Ross Lord takes a look back at the legacy of a Canadian original -

Rita MacNeil “Working Man” Audio  >> YouTube

Rita MacNeil and the Men of the Deeps NAC Ottawa perform "Hope Deliverer" and "Peace in the Valley" 12 December 2009

Good sport: MacNeil was such a beloved figure and despite of her image she also took some chances along the way, at one point appearing on TV’s raunchy” Trailer Park Boys” . She played herself as the trash-talking boys tried to kidnap her while on tour.
She and her band are forced off their bus at gunpoint to help harvest marijuana
 >> YouTube


Rita MacNeil "Working Man" CD Single artwork

“Working Man” was a very popular and hugely requested track in 2010 on Helen West’s Country Show on BBC Radio Cambridge, played for some 3 months running! It was also spun on the very last show she presented on 2 Jan 2011, Helen presented for 17 years. She ran her own band for 15 years playing at many venues in and around the county
This audio was broadcast on BBC Radio Cambridge on April 11, 2010
 >>  Audio  

Released on 27 March1995 “Working Man - The Best Of Rita Macneil” (Polydor Ltd.) is available on:
See album discography on - iTunes Canada - UK iTunes


Anne Murray @annemurray1 RIP Rita MacNeil. 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.

Michelle Wright - My dear Facebook friends, We lost one of the most beautiful Canadian singer/songwriters yesterday and I wanted to honor her here this morning. She just simply was one of the best and moved me in a way that only she could every time I saw her perform. Thank you Rita for sharing your gift. RIP.

The JUNO Awards @TheJUNOAwards We are saddened to hear of the passing of Rita MacNeil. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.

Brian Edwards (MacNeil's long-time promoter and agent) : "When she walked on that stage or into any room, I mean, she lit the room right up. And the funny thing is about the whole thing, a lot people would be shy when they met Rita, but she was a lot shyer than they were."

Tommy Hunter former CBC television host 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."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in London on Wednesday attending the funeral for former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher, said MacNeil was: "A great Canadian performer and icon."

Cecil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, says MacNeil was a humble and soft-spoken woman whose rise to stardom played a key role in expanding the influence of Cape Breton music.

RIP Rita MacNeil, you know you're a Canadian icon, when Stompin' Tom writes a song about YOU...

 The announcement of her death on her website included this passage:
“A mother to Laura (Dana) and Wade (Lori), a grandmother, a dear friend, and a sister, Rita was a Canadian icon — a woman who had a dream that became a reality — who brought joy and inspiration to so many.
‘And you never let the hard times

Take away your soul
And you stopped the tears from falling
As you watched the young ones go
You’re as peaceful as a clear day
You’re as rugged as the seas
I caress you, oh, Cape Breton, in my dreams.’ ”

(April 17) Her son and manager, Wade Langham, says no funeral or memorial services have been arranged yet.

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