Award-winning Inuk singer Kelly Fraser will 'live on through her music,' Manitoba musician says

Friends and fans of a Juno Award-nominated Inuk singer and songwriter who died over the Christmas holidays are devastated, an Indigenous Manitoba musician says.

Kelly Fraser, 26, born in Nunavut, died earlier this week in Winnipeg

Kelly Fraser appears on the Juno Award red carpet in Vancouver on March 25, 2018, when she received a nomination. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Friends and fans of a Juno Award-nominated Inuk singer and songwriter who died over the Christmas holidays are devastated, an Indigenous Manitoba musician says.

Kelly Fraser, a pop singer who added flair to modern music in Inuktitut, while raising awareness about issues involving young people, was born in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, and had been living in Winnipeg. She was 26.

The cause of Fraser's death earlier this week in the Manitoba capital hasn't been announced.

Rhonda Head from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, about 560 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, is an Indigenous musician who met Fraser last month at a music residency in Banff, Alta.

"When I first met her, she was so friendly and bubbly, outgoing — she had a great aura around her, so full of life, and I immediately fell in love with her. That's how great of a person she was. She was so extraordinarily talented."

Fraser died in Winnipeg at the age of 26. (CBC)

Head appreciated how dedicated Fraser was to singing in Inuktitut.

"I thought it was so wonderful that she was singing in her Indigenous language. I perform in my Indigenous language too, and I know how spiritual that is," Head said.

"I thought it was so beautiful, what her artistry was doing for the people."

Fraser's death is devastating for the music community, Head said.

"She'll live on through her music."

Fraser's second album, Sedna in 2017, was nominated for best Indigenous music album at the 2018 Juno Awards honouring Canadian music.

She received the 2019 Indspire Award, recognizing First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals who demonstrate outstanding achievement.

Manitoba Music, a local music industry association, posted on Facebook on Thursday that its members were "deeply saddened" by Fraser's death.

'Diamond from the North' 

Fraser worked at the Pyramid Cabaret when she first arrived in Winnipeg a few years ago. The venue's manager David McKeigan said he thought of her as a "diamond from the North," whose life and potential was cut tragically short, just as she was starting to shine. 

"When a diamond is found, it's unfinished. It needs to be polished, cut, and made into something," he said. 

"And that's what it was. It's like she was a diamond that was slowly being crafted into a beautiful diamond. She was on her way, but she never got to be there."

Fraser was intensely proud and passionate about being from Nunavut and would talk about northern issues often, he said. 

"She wanted to make it a better place and get people knowing about it," he said. 

Her death still seems unreal, he added. 

"When I look at Wikipedia and it says 'died' and 'was,' it just doesn't seem real," he said. 

Her family has asked for privacy at this time. No funeral arrangements have been announced.

Producer and friend Thor Simonsen talks about Kelly Fraser's life and legacy. 2:38

If you need help or are in crisis, you can call the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566. You can also call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

With files from Erin Brohman and Sarah Petz