'He was magic': Canadian rock legend Kenny Shields dies

Kenny Shields, lead singer of classic Canadian rock band Streetheart, has died at age 69 in a Winnipeg hospital.

Lead singer of Streetheart, 69, died in a Winnipeg hospital Friday

'He was magic': Canadian rock legend Kenny Shields dies

6 years ago
Duration 2:14
Lead singer of Streetheart, 69, died in a Winnipeg hospital Friday

Gloria Dignazio can't count the number of times she saw Kenny Shields perform with his classic Canadian rock band Streetheart, but one concert stands out clearly in her memory.

In 1979, Dignazio, then 16, was attending her second concert. Streetheart was playing the Playhouse Theatre.

"I actually jumped up on stage and I kissed him and I hugged him," Dignazio recalled.

Years later, Dignazio approached Shields at an event celebrating the 30th anniversary of Winnipeg classic rock station 92 CITI FM. She brought a photo album with pictures from that concert in 1979.

"And I told him the story and he remembered me and he wrote this to me: 'To Gloria, which way is the stage? Meet you there, Kenny Shields.' So this just means a lot to me, so it just kind of came like full-circle. That's my favourite concert."

Shields, 69, died early Friday morning in a Winnipeg hospital where he had undergone cardiac surgery, bandmate and close friend Jeff Neill confirmed.

Shields's wife and daughter were with him when he died around 3 a.m.

"The ones that he loved were by his side and he wasn't in pain. And he just slipped away," said Neill, who had known Shields since 1977.

"He was sort of at peace with the world. It's a very humbling experience when you go in and you see one of your very best friends like that, and the courage that he had there was quite something."

Streetheart had planned a cross-country tour this summer to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band. The tour was cancelled when Shields fell ill earlier this month.

Live performance by Canadian rock band Streetheart at the St. Vital Hotel. in 1979

6 years ago
Duration 28:18
Kenny Shields, lead singer of classic Canadian rock band Streetheart, has died at age 69.

Shields experienced heart problems

While performing a Canada Day show in Sherwood Park, Alta., Shields appeared confused and was forgetting lyrics, Neill said.

They got him back to Winnipeg and he was diagnosed with hypoxia, a deficiency in the amount of blood and oxygen getting to the brain.

Neill announced Shields's illness on the official Facebook page for Kenny Shields and Streetheart and continued to post updates about his condition.

"Kenny, as some of you may know and many have speculated on, has a very sick heart. In lay terms, he has approximately 20 per cent efficiency on the left side of his heart, which has caused his right side to become damaged in an attempt to compensate," Neill posted July 5.

"This has created a dangerous buildup of fluid in his lungs along with other serious internal issues."

Neill said Shields had been dealing with heart issues for a number of years and some time ago had one of his valves replaced.

While in the hospital this month, doctors were working to find ways to help Shields "but in the end, his heart was just too weak," Neill said. 

Born and raised in the farming community of Nokomis, Sask., in 1947, Shields started playing in bands in Saskatoon, where he moved to attend university.

He relocated to Winnipeg in the mid-1970s and became part of a band originally from his home province.

The band soon returned to Saskatoon.

When it broke up in 1976, Shields and some of his bandmates hooked up with a couple of new musicians and began rehearsals in Regina for what would become Streetheart, the prairie powerhouse band of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Kenny Shields had been hospitalized for the past few weeks for heart problems. The lead singer of the Canadian classic rock band Streetheart has died at age 69. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

The band soon relocated once again to Winnipeg.

Many of their hits became classic rock radio staples, including Action, Here Comes the Night, What Kind of Love Is This, and a cover of The Rolling Stones classic Under My Thumb.

Dignazio recalled the way Shields would prowl the stage.

"What a showman," she said. "He was a like the Mick Jagger of Winnipeg. He wore this glove — he wore it before Michael Jackson — just charisma. He played the crowd, he's like the best frontman ever."

"At his peak, there was no better singer/frontman on the planet than Kenny Shields, and I would throw Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart and anyone of that ilk into that category," said Neill. "He was magic.

"He could light up a room, whether it was a club, whether it was a concert hall or an arena."

He was a like the Mick Jagger of Winnipeg. He wore this glove — he wore it before Michael Jackson — just charisma. He played the crowd, he's like the best frontman ever.- Gloria Dignazio

The band earned six gold albums, four platinum albums, a gold single, two Ampex Golden Reel awards, a Music Express People's Choice Award as Most Popular Canadian Act and a Juno Award.

In September 2003, Kenny Shields and Streetheart were inducted into the Western Canadian Music Association Hall of Fame.

Shields became a fixture on the Winnipeg music scene, doing solo shows as well as performing with his old mates.

"Kenny gave everything he had, every night when he was performing," Neill said. "He was ultra talented and had the most unique voice. He will be remembered as one of Canada's greatest frontmen."

Farewell concert planned for summer

The band was scheduled to perform a farewell concert at the Winnipeg Classic RockFest later this summer. The show was slated as the "final farewell performance by members of Streetheart" and an event to "honour the incredible legacy of Kenny Shields."

Other Canadian rockers including Honeymoon Suite, Harlequin, The Pumps and Orphan are also on the bill.

An update on the Facebook page for the event says the show will go on: "Kenny Shields was so looking forward to performing for his fans in Winnipeg where Streetheart first began, so this special tribute will give Winnipeg a chance to honour and thank Kenny for all the great music memories he's given to us all over the last 40 years. He deserves this!"

Dignazio already has her tickets to the concert. "I know there's people flying in from all parts of Canada. It's going to be a massive celebration of his life."

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Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and Jillian Taylor