Folk-rock singer Ani DiFranco received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Winnipeg on Friday. She was acknowledged for her deep and creative commitment to social justice, sustainability and the arts.

"This is exciting for little folk-singing me," she laughed, while accepting the honour.

"I'm just thrilled to be here. I feel very proud," she continued. "Now I'm 43 and my early career really started in Canada before I was even known in my own country, so it feels really sweet to be in Winnipeg at the U of W accepting this honour."

"DiFranco helped pioneer the independent music movement and has had a profound impact on the folk music community, including in Winnipeg," states a press release from the university.

"Feminist activists recognize her as a cultural icon for her unflinching critiques – expressed in song – of sexism, heterosexism, racism, and class-based discrimination."

DiFranco is also in the city to receive the 2013 Artistic Achievement Award from the Winnipeg Folk Festival at its gala fundraiser, given annually to a performer who has made exceptional contributions to folk music and the community.

“We are pleased that the University is complementing the presentation of our [award] by recognizing Ani’s similarly impressive contribution to social activism,” said Lynne Skromeda, executive director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. 

DiFranco’s career spans more than two decades and includes 20 albums.

During her early career, she resisted representation by mainstream record labels and instead established her own independent label, Righteous Babe Records.

Dr. Angela Failler, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies; Ani DiFr

Dr. Angela Failler, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies; Ani DiFranco; Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, President and Vice-Chancellor, UWinnipeg. DiFranco receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters. (Cory Aronec Photography)

Today Righteous Babe Records represents up-and-coming as well as established artists, and advocates for social justice efforts related to media activism, reproductive rights, peace and justice movements, arts and education, and other forms of democratic engagement, states the release from the U of W.

"I feel as though I did it the right way," she reflected. "I had opportunities early on to go a more commercial route with my career and I chose to stay amongst my people and follow the path that led me to the most interesting, dynamic, giving, creative, active people so I'm very happy with the path that I chose.

"It's a longer route than the commercial route through music, but along the way I've had so many cool experiences and met so many awesome people that I wouldn't have known otherwise."

In 2000 she saved a 19th century church in Buffalo, New York from the wrecking ball and turned it into Babeville, an eco-friendly multi-use arts facility.

“DiFranco has long been an advocate for social justice and environmental sustainability, and she lives those values as both a performer and entrepreneur,” said U of W president Lloyd Axworthy.

“Ani is a strong example of courage, tenacity and compassion – characteristics that our university holds in high esteem. We are pleased to welcome Ani to our university community.”

The Honorary Doctor of Letters is conferred upon those who have made a significant contribution to the Arts and Humanities.

Past recipients include cellist Zara Nelsova , folk singer Oscar Brand, and conductor Bramwell Tovey.