Rita MacNeil, Canadian songstress, passed away at age 68 this week of  April 14, 2013

It is fitting that an unlikely lady of large size and beautiful voice in combination have stolen the heart of millions of music-lovers worldwide!

Rita MacNeil. I remember my first introduction to Rita’s beautiful songs as I was flipping through the channels looking for a program to watch. Then I see this very large lady introducing “The Men of the Deep”, the coal-miner singers. She and they told a story of many a miner and how hard a life can be until they stop going down underground. As the lyrics speak: 

It’s a working man l am
And I’ve been down under ground
And I swear to God if ever see the sun
Or for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again will go down under ground

Video: Working Man

Her wonderful story-songs struck a chord with me as a remnant of the once very popular folk song era of the 60’s. I began to love her music and the stories each told or the pictures painted by her words. My dad, C W Pedley was born in Halifax and my grandfather who died in the Halifax Explosion is buried there in Fairview Cemetery. Every time I hear the words of the song She’s Called Nova Scotia I remember Dad and see the wonderful sights that two visits to Nova Scotia have recorded in the Eastern hemisphere of my brain.

Rita MacNeil’s She’s Called Nova Scotia
Songwriters: MACNEIL, RITA
She grows on you slowly the first time you meet
There’s just so much beauty the heart can believe
And you want to stay longer and she’s ever so pleased
You’re one of the many who don’t want to leave

So walk through her green fields, Go down to the sea
The fortune in your eyes is more like a dream
She’s called Nova Scotia and she so makes you feel
You discovered a treasure no other has seen

It’s hard to remember the places you’ve been
For once in her presence she’s all that you’ve seen
And she cradles you softly like a warm gentle breeze
And wins your heart over with a feeling of peace

So walk through her green fields, Go down to the sea
The fortune in your eyes is more like a dream
She’s called Nova Scotia and she so makes you feel
You discovered a treasure no other has seen

She welcomes the strangers from far away shores
While deep down inside her, Some walk through her soul
And at night in her slumber, The winds softly call
And awakens her spirit that lives in us all

So walk through her green fields, Go down to the sea
The fortune in your eyes is more like a dream
She’s called Nova Scotia and she so makes you feel
You discovered a treasure no other has seen

So walk through her green fields, Go down to the sea
The fortune in your eyes is more like a dream
She’s called Nova Scotia and she so makes you feel
You discovered a treasure no other has seen
You discovered a treasure no other has seen

Video: She’s Called Nova Scotia


I can only hope that someone will take her place as arguably the best representative of Canadian Christmas specials and sponsor of new talent being introduced to the world. I remember the one time visit to her show in Welland, Ontario, where not only did we hear Rita, but the Men of the Deep AND were introduced to The Canadian Tenors, now I understand, of world renown and renamed The Tenors.
She captured my poetic musical heart as I recall snatches of words from many of her songs. They will always be to me, sweet remembrances of Rita MacNeil as long as I live. She may not have had outward beauty as is the standard of vocalists and all star celebrities, but I will always love her beautiful spirit and heart of Gold, carried unobtrusively in the tunes and stories which connected her heart to millions of others and to mine.
We will miss you Rita MacNeil until we meet again.
Here is the story from the Vancouver Sun

Working Man sung by Rita MacNeil

TORONTO — Rita MacNeil, a singer-songwriter from small-town Canada whose powerful voice explored genres from country, to folk, to gospel, died Tuesday night following complications from surgery. She was 68.

Always seeming an unlikely star, MacNeil worked tirelessly over decades to gradually become a beloved fixture in Canadian culture, with her greatest success coming only after she was in her 40s.

Her spotless, astonishingly full voice carried a light Celtic lilt that only sweetened her dulcet tones, but she was a versatile singer who could produce grittier notes as well.

She was painfully shy and admitted to battling self-confidence issues, largely stemming from her weight. Yet she was a renowned live performer who sold out gigs around the world.

“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,” singer Anne Murray said in a statement.

Country music legend Tommy Hunter said his “one vivid memory” of MacNeil was when she was a guest on his show.


“Coming from a coal mining area she had a soft spot in her heart for those miners. When she sang ‘Working Man’ there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. 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. It was evident that she touched them all from the many letters and comments we received after that show. I have lost a good friend.”

Added Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Saddened to hear about the passing of one of Cape Breton and Canada’s finest voices, Rita MacNeil.”

Born in Big Pond, N.S., in 1944, MacNeil grew up with three brothers and four sisters. She fell in love with singing by the age of six, despite her shy disposition and a cleft palate that eventually required surgery.

She relocated to Toronto at age 17 in 1962. Once there, she endured a succession of low-paying jobs, including a retail gig at Eaton’s and a stint as a cleaning woman.

Meanwhile, she turned heads with appearances at Toronto’s famed Riverboat folk club and performances at the Mariposa folk festival, but wasn’t earning enough to pay the rent.

While struggling to make ends meet, she found comfort in the fledgling women’s movement. She began attending meetings in Toronto in the early ’70s that she found out — years later — were being monitored by the RCMP.

“If you wanted to see a bunch of women sitting around talking about issues and going on demonstrations that are peaceful and non-violent, then so be it, but I don’t think there was a reason to do that,” MacNeil said in 2008.

“What’s radical about equal pay for equal work? And trying to empower women to reach the potential that they have?”

MacNeil has said these meetings gave her strength and pushed forth her songwriting — in fact, after one get-together, she was inspired to write her first song.

By 1975, she was ready to independently release her first album, “Born a Woman.”

“All of those songs would have been sung at rallies, demonstrations or meetings that we attended,” MacNeil said.

She had two children during that time as well — Laura and Wade — though she would eventually divorce their father.

She returned to Big Pond, N.S., in 1976 and continued writing. In 1981, she issued “Part of the Mystery,” a record financed by family and friends. Big Pond Publishing and Productions Ltd., was operated on a minuscule budget and was forced to conduct sales on a consignment basis.

Still, MacNeil was building a fan base through her consistently first-rate performances and slowly growing discography. She issued another album, “I’m Not What I Seem,” in 1983.

Her breakthrough came with 1987’s “Flying on Your Own.” The album — with a cover featuring MacNeil under one of her trademark floppy hats — finally won her some radio play, largely on easy-listening stations in smaller Canadian cities. It was soon certified platinum.


Also in 1987, MacNeil won her first Juno Award as Canada’s “most promising female vocalist” — at age 42 (she graciously accepted the award even though some thought it odd).

She didn’t wait long to issue a followup, releasing “Reason to Believe” the following year. Some reviewers thought the record represented a compromise in MacNeil’s sound, with a move toward a more rock-oriented style. MacNeil disputed that and pointing out she always loved rock.

Audiences seemed to embrace MacNeil’s new sound and the record quickly reached platinum status in Canada.

She issued a popular Christmas album later that year and began recording hit records at a torrid pace, with a new release coming near-annually for the next decade.

The von Trapps, who toured Canada with MacNeil during Christmas in 2011, said in a statement that it was an honour to be able to know and work with such a prolific songwriter.

“She had such a generous heart, and great sense of humour. We will miss her dearly. She will always be with us through her music and the special moments we shared.”

MacNeil won female vocalist of the year at the 1990 Junos and country female vocalist of the year at the ’91 show.

And she further expanded her reach by launching the CBC-TV variety show “Rita & Friends” in 1994. The show ran through 1997 and won a Gemini Award.

MacNeil was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1992 and the Order of Nova Scotia in 2005. In addition to her three Junos, she won multiple Canadian Country Music Association awards and East Coast Music Awards trophies.

“The most genuine entertainer I have ever worked with,” said Rocklands Entertainment Inc. CEO Brian Edwards.

“I had the honour to travel with Rita all over North America. Each of the 400 shows Rita performed during our 15 year of working together carries a very special memory that I will always cherish.”

She is one lady who will not be remembered just on a tombstone but by markers in the heart of everyone who heard her music.

Categories: dead, Canadian songstress, Rita MacNeil, A Working Man I Am, christmas specials, She’s Called Nova Scotia, 2013

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