Nova Scotia

'Out on a cloud of love': Folk singer, songwriter Laura Smith has died

Friends are remembering folk singer and songwriter Laura Smith as a talented performer who connected with a loyal audience, brought the best out in her collaborators and handled a terminal illness with grace.  

'It was just love, pure and simple, joy and love that was reciprocal. She loved playing for her audience'

Laura Smith moved to Nova Scotia in 1984 and released four studio albums. She took a break from performing after being diagnosed with cancer last year. (Candace Berry Photography)

Friends are remembering folk singer and songwriter Laura Smith as a talented performer who connected with a loyal audience, brought the best out in her collaborators and handled a terminal illness with humour and grace.  

Smith died of cancer at her home in Mahone Bay, N.S., Saturday night. She was a week shy of her 68th birthday.  

Originally from southern Ontario, Smith lived and worked in Nova Scotia for 35 years.

She released four studio albums. In 1995, she won the East Coast Music Award for Album of the Year and Female Artist of the Year for B'tween The Earth and My Soul.

Bassist Bruce Dixon played with Smith on most of her albums. Their last gig together was last November in Musquodoboit. 

He said she was not only a talented songwriter, but a generous musician who sparked creativity. 

"She was so involved in it being just right, just the way she heard it. She gave me that ability and let me just be who I was and play what I thought was right. And it worked out. I learned a lot from her in that aspect," he said.  

Kim Dunn toured with Smith for the last five years and they became very close. He said Smith had a knack for reshaping her own songs, giving them new depth and meaning.  

"There was something a little extra special going on there because of those songs, because of those lyrics — the way [Smith] presented them, night in and night out, with all of her heart," he said. 

"The songs, as good as they were … she was bringing more, even more weight to them."

Dunn, who also played with Rita MacNeil for the last 13 years of her life, said they were similar artists in the sense that both women had "loyal, loving and supportive fans."

There was a 15-year period of Smith's life where she didn't release any music. She struggled following a series of accidents in the late 90s that left her in chronic pain. But in 2013, Smith returned with a new album, Everything is Moving and spoke to CBC about the experience.  

Reconnected quickly

But people didn't forget about her and Dunn said it was electrifying to see people connect again after Smith's hiatus. 

"There was a connection that was a little deeper between Laura and her audience," he said. "I guess it was just love, pure and simple, joy and love that was reciprocal. She loved playing for her audience and her audience gave it back."

Another friend, Erin Donovan, said even in Smith's final weeks she was creating new music. People gathered to play guitar at her bedside. 

"She handled it all with absolute grace … she never lost her sense of humour right until the end, which is kind of a gift as well," said Donovan.  "She really went out on a cloud of love."

In January, hundreds of people donated to a GoFundMe friends set up for Smith. It far exceeded its goal and raised $45,000. Some who donated were longtime friends, others were strangers touched by her music. 

The contributions allowed Smith to stay at home in her final weeks as she received oncological and palliative care.

Smith contributed to an opinion piece in the Chronicle Herald where she spoke about the need for a better understanding of the benefits of palliative care. She wanted any additional donations from the GoFundMe to support local programs that help people stay comfortable in the environment of their choice. 

"She knew she was dying but having the care she had really made her quality of life so much better at the end than when she was just sick and not getting treatment," said Donovan. 

Just 10 days ago, after an appointment with her oncologist, Donovan said Smith decided to walk to a nearby restaurant where she shared stories with friends over lunch with a wine spritzer. 

"She went from being a very, very sick person to having some restored quality of life so she could spend her last time with her friends, enjoying life," she said. 

In a message posted Jan. 27 on the GoFundMe page, Smith said she was grateful for the support and felt "luckier than she imagined possible at a time like this." 

She said thanked her treatment team and her "glorious friends." 

"I am blossoming into an understanding of just how deep the truth of our 'togetherness' is. You are showing me the way home. Thank you for your love and support. I'm happy and I'm not afraid," Smith's message said. 

A tribute concert March 29 at Casino Nova Scotia will go ahead as planned. Tickets sold out within a day when it was announced. 

Donovan hopes people continue to explore Smith's music. 

"You'll be amazed at the range and the depth of her poetry," she said. "I hope everyone [will] take some time and listen to her music. That says it all, more than words can say, about who she was and how she saw the world."

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About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

With files from Blair Sanderson

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