Nova Scotia

Thousands celebrate Rita MacNeil at benefit

More than 5,000 people packed the Centre 200 arena in Sydney Monday night to say one last good bye to Rita MacNeil.

Farewell concert raises $80K for scholarship at Cape Breton University

People gather in Centre 200 to watch the concert in memory of Rita MacNeil.(Courtesy of Adam Young)

More than 5,000 people packed Centre 200 in Sydney Monday night to say one last good bye to Rita MacNeil.

The star-studded benefit concert raised more than $80,000 for a new music scholarship at Cape Breton University.

Each of the 5,200 fans paid $10 to hear dozens of Cape Breton performers pay tribute to MacNeil, who died last month at age 68.

The Remembering Rita celebration began with one of MacNeil's best known songs, Home I'll Be, played by Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac.

"There's no question that Rita is loved by everybody here and we're going to feel the love back from her," said MacIsaac.

The evening was a who's who of Cape Breton music, including the Barra MacNeils, The Men of the Deeps and Matt Minglewood.

'She touched everyone'

All remembered the gentle woman with the big voice and bigger heart.

"She's been very good to me, ever since she became as famous as she did. She's gotten me on shows that otherwise they wouldn't want this old rock 'n' roll Cape Bretoner on them, right? But Rita said: 'I want Matt," said Matt Minglewood.

Doris Mason, who performed with MacNeil in the early days of her career, spoke about her music.

"She was a wonderful songwriter. She captured nature, relationships, and she had a great sense of humour. She touched everyone," Mason said.

The show featured classic video clips of MacNeil performing, accepting awards and dispensing advice.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to say to all the young performers: Don't ever give up on your dream. I'm proof that you can make it. Be true to what you do," said MacNeil in one segment.

$80K for music scholarship

Joella Foulds organized the concert.

"We are all sad, but we're also so grateful for the wonderful soul that she was and the joy that she brought to all of us," Foulds said.

Ticket sales from the concert raised around $50,000 for the Rita MacNeil scholarship.CBU chancellor and business leader Annette Vershuren made a surprise $30,000 contribution on top of that.

Donations for the scholarship are still coming in online and through CBU.

Foulds said it will take a few days to figure out exactly how much money has been raised.