Singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil to be inducted into Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame

TORONTO — Beloved East Coast singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil is getting her place in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Organizers say they'll induct the late performer on May 6 during a tribute at the 2021 East Coast Music Awards Show, held on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island.

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The induction will include a musical tribute performed by a group of MacNeil's former bandmates and friends. Her name will then be added to the hall of fame at the National Music Centre in Calgary.

MacNeil, known as "Cape Breton's first lady of song," is among the most prominent singers to rise from Nova Scotia's music scene to national popularity, a feat she accomplished in her 40s.

Her early years were spent in Toronto where she worked low-paying jobs, including a gig at Eaton's and a stint as a cleaning woman.

Around the same time, she began playing local shows at Toronto's Riverboat folk club and the Mariposa Folk Festival and started attending local meetings for the fledgling women's rights movement.

It's one of those gatherings that inspired her to write her first song, and build a singing career that took her back to her birthplace in Big Pond, N.S. where she gradually built a loyal fanbase.

Her breakthrough album, 1987's "Flying on Your Own," was popular on regional radio stations and certified platinum with sales of more than a million copies. That same year she won a Juno Award for "most promising female vocalist," the first of three Junos she'd pick up over the years.

MacNeil was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1992 and the Order of Nova Scotia in 2005. She won 11 East Coast Music Awards, culminating with the lifetime achievement award.

While the singer hosted a variety show on CBC and was a familiar face for many Canadians, it was her compositions that were a large part of her success, leaders at the Songwriters Hall of Fame said in their announcement.

More than 200 of her songs are registered with rights management company Broadcast Music Inc., they added.

MacNeil's induction announcement was timed with the eighth anniversary of her untimely death on April 16, 2013, after complications with surgery. She was 68.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.

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