Rita MacNeil, Cape Breton's 'first lady of song,' to join Songwriters Hall of Fame

Beloved East Coast singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil is getting her place in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Ceremony to take place at 2021 East Coast Music Awards Show on Cape Breton Island

Rita MacNeil, right, speaks after receiving a lifetime achievement award at the East Coast Music Awards Sunday Feb. 20, 2005 in Sydney N.S. On Friday, organizers announced MacNeil will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on May 6. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Beloved East Coast singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil is getting her place in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Organizers say they'll induct the late performer on May 6 during a tribute at the 2021 East Coast Music Awards Show, which is being held on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island.

The induction will include a musical tribute performed by a group of MacNeil's former bandmates and friends. Her name will then be added to the hall of fame at the National Music Centre in Calgary.

MacNeil, known as "Cape Breton's first lady of song," is among the most iconic performers to rise from Nova Scotia's music scene to national popularity, a feat she accomplished in her 40s.

Her induction announcement was timed with the eighth anniversary of her untimely death on April 16, 2013, after complications with surgery. She was 68.

WATCH | Beloved singer Rita MacNeil dies at 68:

Beloved singer Rita MacNeil dies at 68

The National

8 years ago
Cape Breton singer overcame shyness to sell millions of albums, and earn fans and acclaim 4:49

MacNeil's early years were spent in Toronto where she worked low-paying jobs, including a gig at Eaton's and a stint as a cleaning woman.

Around the same time, she began playing local shows at Toronto's Riverboat folk club and the Mariposa Folk Festival and started attending local meetings for the fledgling women's rights movement.

It's one of those gatherings that inspired her to write her first song, and build a singing career that took her back to her birthplace in Big Pond, N.S. where she gradually built a loyal fanbase.

MacNeil hosted the CBC Television variety show Rita and Friends from 1994 to 1997. Here, Rita performs with Joni Mitchell. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Her breakthrough album, 1987's Flying on Your Own, was popular on regional radio stations and certified platinum with sales of more than a million copies. That same year she won a Juno Award for "most promising female vocalist," the first of three Junos she'd pick up over the years.

MacNeil was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1992 and the Order of Nova Scotia in 2005. She won 11 East Coast Music Awards, culminating with the lifetime achievement award.


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