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Singer and teacher behind Mi'kmaq Blackbird meet Paul McCartney in Vancouver

Here's how it happened, and how it went.

Here's how it happened, and how it went

When a Mi’kmaq rendition of the Beatles classic Blackbird went viral last month, 16-year-old Mi'kmaq singer Emma Stevens said her dream was for Paul McCartney to hear it — but little did she know that, just a few weeks later, she and her teacher Carter Chiasson would be shaking hands with the music icon. (Adam Chiasson)

When a Mi'kmaq rendition of the Beatles classic Blackbird  went viral last month, 16-year-old Mi'kmaq singer Emma Stevens said her dream was for Paul McCartney to hear it — but little did she know that, just a few weeks later, she and her teacher Carter Chiasson would get a private meeting with the music icon.

But that's exactly what happened on Saturday night in Vancouver, where McCartney was playing a show at BC Place Stadium.

According to Chiasson, his brother had "emailed the right person and said the right things and all of a sudden we had an invitation." Before long they had plane tickets booked, concert tickets arranged, and plans to meet Paul McCartney backstage before the show.

Emma Stevens and Carter Chiasson presented McCartney with a Mi’kmaq medallion made by Cape Breton artist Vivian Googoo, and gifted to them by Assembly of First Nations regional chief Morley Googoo. On it is the image of a blackbird. (Carter Chiasson)

They waited in a room with roughly 50 other people — mostly family members of McCartney's band — and then were taken into a room where they got a few minutes to talk privately with McCartney.

The pair presented McCartney with a Mi'kmaq medallion that was made by Cape Breton artist Vivian Googoo and gifted to them by Assembly of First Nations regional chief Morley Googoo. On it is the image of a blackbird.

They also got to share a few personal thoughts. "I said, 'I know you hear this all the time, but it's an honour to meet you,'" recounted Chiasson, on the phone from the Vancouver airport Sunday evening. "And then Paul said, 'I really love your version. I'm going to be nervous singing my version tonight, your version is so beautiful.'"

Stevens explained to McCartney that her dad is a huge Beatles fan, and that she grew up listening to his music.

McCartney also expressed his appreciation for how the Mi'kmaq version of the song helps to celebrate culture, and Chiasson explained how it's also meant to help with language revitalization — and that by drawing international attention to the song, McCartney was helping to further those efforts.

"It was pretty surreal," said Chiasson, still sounding a little shell-shocked by the experience. "I probably wouldn't be who I am if it wasn't for the music of the Beatles. It's a big part of why I'm a musician and a music teacher and a producer. It's just surreal. It feels like it didn't happen. But I'm so grateful that it did."

"Meeting Paul was an unbelievable experience," said Stevens in a text. "I never thought it would happen, and now, knowing that he knows who I am, what we did and all of the positive things that are happening because of it, makes me really happy. Meeting him made all of this extra special."

After McCartney performed Blackbird during the show, he gave Stevens and Chiasson a huge shoutout.

"You've probably have heard it, but there's a beautiful version on the Internet by a girl called Emma Stevens, and she sings it in her Native language. Have you heard it?" said McCartney. The crowd then let out a huge cheer.

"It's a beautiful version. She's actually here tonight, and I met her before the show," he continued. "I said, 'Listen, your vision is so beautiful, I'm going to be nervous singing my version.'"

Carter Chiasson and his brother Adam in front of the stage at BC Place Saturday. Carter says Adam “emailed the right person and said the right things and all of a sudden we had an invitation.” (Carter Chiasson)

Last month, McCartney mentioned the version on stage from a concert in Kentucky, but this time Stevens and Chiasson were in the crowd hearing it in person.

Chiasson said the whole experience has been a whirlwind, and is spurring others to cover Blackbird in their Indigenous languages.

"And there's this production in Charlottetown that's happening all summer where the closing of the show is this version of Blackbird that features twelve languages, which is pretty cool. What it's done for language revitalization is pretty special," he said.

"Music can transcend almost anything," added Chiasson. "And I think lots of positive things happen because of it."

 

 

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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