Layton's last letter recorded as a song by Raffi

Singer Raffi has penned a musical version of Jack Layton's letter to Canadians and released the recording Thursday.
Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, plays guitar with children's show host Daniel Cook in 2006. Layton's last letter to Canadians has been turned into a song by Raffi. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Singer and children's entertainer Raffi was so inspired by late NDP leader Jack Layton's letter to Canadians that he turned it into a song and the recording, which he is encouraging Canadians to share, was released Thursday.

Titled Letter to a Nation, the song's lyrics use the final words from Layton's letter as the chorus: "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."

Before Layton died of cancer in August, he wrote a letter to Canadians that his family released the day he died. It had messages for young people, members of his party and Canadians generally. As part of the nation's outpouring of grief and support, some people made posters with the words from his letter, others wrote them in chalk at memorial sites across the country, including Toronto's City Hall.

Layton was a Toronto MP and former city councillor and his wife, Olivia Chow, is also an MP from the city. She heard from Raffi soon after her husband's death and he told her he was moved by Layton's letter to Canadians and wanted to record the song.

Singer and songwriter Raffi recorded the song Letter to a Nation after being inspired by Jack Layton's last letter to Canadians. (Centre for Child Honouring)
Chow gave the well-known children's singer her support.

"His intention was to put music to Jack's words which I'm so honoured that he's able to do," she told CBC News. "To hear Jack's words in song it's totally delightful."

Chow said it's fitting that Layton's words have been made into a song because her husband was a musician and loved sharing music with others. He was known for bringing his guitar and songbooks along on the campaign trail and when he and Chow would entertain at their home, a musical sing-along was a common event.

Raffi isn't selling Letter to a Nation, it's available as a free download, and he's also made the sheet music available so people can use it to play and sing it themselves. 

Chow says that approach is also entirely fitting, and so is the fact that Raffi is most known for his work with children.

"It's very fitting from Raffi who is all about children, it's the future generation, and Jack really wanted young people to be engaged," she said.

In a statement on his website Raffi said he was deeply saddened by Layton's death.

"In his last letter to Canadians, Jack Layton expressed a spirit of cooperation and positivity that resonated strongly with me and with many Canadians. This message was so widely shared immediately after his passing, I wanted to capture its wisdom in song to help us remember," he explains. "Layton’s last words gave Canada a historic moment. His message of love, hope, and optimism transcend politics — these are enduring values for young and old to embrace."

Chow said there are multiple musicians in the NDP caucus and some of them from Quebec are thinking of making a French version of Raffi's song.