Rita MacNeil, Cape Breton’s Songbird, dies April 17, 2013


Rita MacNeil


The tributes are pouring in, as we learned about the death of Rita MacNeil.  I first saw Rita in the early 1980s in the University Auditorium at St. Francis Xavier University, before she had made it big, and played in much more illustrious venues.  I loved her ordinariness and intimacy with the audience as she threw off her shoes and sang barefoot.

She is an inspiration to anyone, who like me, is both shy and does not conform to norms of size and beauty — a cleft palate and overweight. Here is a YouTube of Rita talking about shyness and stage fright to George Strom on The Hour in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGFoXPUeefA   Her song Flying on Your Own perhaps best illustrates how she advocates for women through her art. It could be an anthem for the women’s movement.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFlwCDqr_28

MacNeil released her first album, Born a Woman, in 1975 and played most of the major folks festivals across the country that year. The interview with CBC’s Hana Gartner in 1979 about her evolution from shy housewife to liberated womanwas conducted a few years later, just after she had returned to live in her hometown, Big Pond on Cape Breton Island.


Rita MacNeil’s humour had a lot to do with making personal connections. In 2008, Rita MacNeil was as surprised as anyone to learn she was the target of RCMP undercover agents investigating the women’s movement nearly 40 years ago.


 “It’s just kind of bizarre,” the soft-spoken singer-songwriter told CBC News by phone from Big Pond, her home community in Cape Breton. “I just wish I had known I was under surveillance because I would’ve asked them for a ride home after the meetings because I had a long way to go.” MacNeil, 64, was one of dozens of women who were monitored by the RCMP in the early 1970s, apparently out of concerns about communist infiltrators, according to declassified documents. She represented the Toronto Women’s Caucus at a March 1972 meeting of women’s groups in Winnipeg, and, as an RCMP memo states, was the “one who composes and sings women’s lib songs.”

~ by artpoped on April 17, 2013.

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