Arts·Archives

At home with Kate and Anna McGarrigle (and Martha and Rufus Wainwright) in 1977

Music legends, members of the Order of Canada and one of CBC Music’s favourite bands of all time, Kate and Anna McGarrigle were still unknowns at home when CBC aired this doc about the sisters 39 years ago today. The same could be said of two more future stars who make a special appearance in the piece, if only ‘cause they were still too young for kindergarten. Siblings Martha and Rufus Wainwright were just babies when they first appeared on the fifth estate.

The singer-songwriters let CBC's the fifth estate into their lives 39 years ago today

Kate and Anna McGarrigle let CBC's the fifth estate follow them from Toronto to Montreal to their hometown in the Laurentians on this day in 1977. (CBC Digital Archives)

Music legends, members of the Order of Canada and one of CBC Music's favourite bands of all time, Kate and Anna McGarrigle were still unknowns at home when CBC aired this doc about the sisters 39 years ago today.

The same could be said of two more future stars who make a special appearance in the piece, if only because they were too young for kindergarten.

Watch it with that milk, l'il Rufus Wainwright.

Rufus Wainwright on CBC's the fifth estate, April 20, 1977. (CBC Digital Archives)

Still just babies, Kate's kids Martha and Rufus Wainwright appeared in front of their first national audience for this episode of the fifth estate. Martha gurgles from her playpen and Rufus, then three years old, demonstrates his developing motor skills with a little supervision from mom.

Martha Wainwright on CBC's the fifth estate, April 20, 1977. (CBC Digital Archives)

April 22, Rufus's latest album arrives: Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets. Martha is one of the project's many guest stars, but it would be stranger than, well, a pop record about Shakespeare, if she weren't involved. As a family of songwriters — including Kate (who passed away in 2010), Anna, Rufus and Martha and their father Loudon Wainwright III — their work has always intersected, whether that means performing family-band style in their annual McGarrigle Christmas Hour concerts, or writing songs that air the dirty laundry of love, dysfunction and divorce from every parent and child's P.O.V.

Singer-songwriters Rufus and Martha Wainwright. ( Lian Lunson)

In this 1977 story, it's already clear that family is exceptionally important in their family business.  As the fifth estate explains, the year prior the McGarrigles became breakout stars in Europe, with their self-titled debut album topping critics' lists, including Melody Maker's album of the year poll.

Back in Canada, though, they have a humble life which the fifth estate captures as they follow them to record stores (where they can't find their LPs), to band practice and to Kate's small walk-up apartment in Montreal (where we find the kids). 

In a visit to their hometown in the Laurentians, we even meet the McGarrigles' mother as well as the nuns who taught them piano lessons.

"I always thought I was a normal sort of person living at home and washing the dishes, which I still do — once a week," Anna laughs, talking with host Adrienne Clarkson.

As Clarkson says in the story's introduction, the duo is "not what you'd expect rock-music stars to be. As you'll see, they're very ordinary, and what's different about them is, they want to stay that way."

Watch the doc:

For more throwbacks like this one, visit the CBC Digital Archives.

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