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Monday, November 27, 2023

Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian folk musician, passes away at 84


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Gordon Lightfoot, a renowned folk singer-songwriter from Canada, passed away on Monday. His songs like “Early Morning Rain” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” offered a story of Canadian identity that was widely popular around the world. He was 84.

The musician, according to representative Victoria Lord, passed away at a Toronto hospital. His reason of death wasn’t known right away.

Lightfoot, who was one of the most well-known performers to come out of Toronto’s Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, went on to release 20 studio albums and write hundreds of songs, including “Carefree Highway” and “Sundown.”

Numerous musicians, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Jane’s Addiction, and Sarah McLachlan, have recorded his songs. Bob Dylan once referred to him as a “rare talent.”

The majority of his songs are incredibly autobiographical, with lyrics that frankly probe his own experiences and discuss concerns about Canadian nationalism.

His songs “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” from 1975 and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” from 1966 both lamented the collapse of Great Lakes ore freighters.

He previously said, “I just create the songs about where I am and where I came from. “I use situations as the basis for poems.”

Lightfoot, who was frequently hailed as a poet and storyteller, never lost sight of his ethnic background.

In a 2001 interview, he stated, “I just like to stay there and be a part of the totem pole and take care of the obligations I’ve accrued over the years.

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Although Lightfoot’s parents were aware of his musical prowess even as a young child, he never intended to become a well-known balladeer.

He started singing in the choir at his church and had aspirations of becoming a jazz musician. The soprano, who was 13 years old, took first place in a talent competition at Toronto’s Massey Hall’s Kiwanis Music Festival.

Lightfoot recalled the excitement of performing in front of the audience in an interview from the previous year. It served as a springboard for me.

His barbershop quartet, The Collegiate Four, won a CBC talent competition when he was in high school, proving that the allure of those early days had persisted. In 1956, he played his first note on the guitar, and in the months that followed, he experimented with songwriting.

He failed algebra the first time, possibly due to musical preference. He graduated in 1957 after taking the course once more.

By that time, Lightfoot had already written “The Hula Hoop Song,” his first significant work, which was influenced by the then-dominant children’s toy.

At age 18, he traveled to the United States to pursue a year of music education after unsuccessful attempts to sell the tune. Savings from a job delivering linens to hotels near his hometown helped pay for the trip.

But Lightfoot quickly realized that life in Hollywood wasn’t for him, and he left for Canada. He committed to relocating to Toronto in order to pursue his artistic goals, taking whatever job that came his way—including one at a bank—before being hired as a square dancer for CBC’s “Country Hoedown.”

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His first job was at Fran’s Restaurant, a family-run diner in the city that was amenable to his folk tastes. There he met musician friend Ronnie Hawkins.

The singer was residing in a foreclosed building in Yorkville, which at the time was a bohemian neighborhood where future stars like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell would develop their craft in smoky bars.

With the track “(Remember Me) I’m the One” in 1962, Lightfoot had his well-received radio debut. This opened the door for a number of successful tunes and collaborations with other local performers.

That same year, Lightfoot formed a connection with the Mariposa Folk Festival in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario, and began playing there. As a result, he became the festival’s most devoted repeat performer.

By 1964, he was spreading good word of mouth throughout the city and audiences were beginning to swell. The following year, Lightfoot’s song “I’m Not Sayin'” became popular in Canada, which helped make him more well-known in the US.

A few covers performed by different musicians also didn’t harm. The 1965 recording of “Ribbon of Darkness” by Marty Robbins peaked at No. 1 on the US country music charts, while “For Lovin’ Me” by Lightfoot was propelled into the US Top 30 by Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Thousands of other musicians have since covered the tune, which Dylan once claimed he wished he had recorded.

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That summer, Lightfoot performed at the Newport Folk Festival, the same year Dylan rattled audiences when he shed his folkie persona by playing an electric guitar.

As the folk music boom came to an end in the late 1960s, Lightfoot was already making his transition to pop music with ease.

In 1971, he made his first appearance on the Billboard chart with “If You Could Read My Mind.” It reached No. 5 and has since spawned scores of covers.

Lightfoot’s popularity peaked in the mid-1970s when both his single and album, “Sundown,” topped the Billboard charts, his first and only time doing so.

Lightfoot won 12 Juno Awards over his career, including one in 1970 when it was known as the Gold Leaf.

He was admitted in 1986 to what is now known as the Canadian Music Hall of Fame from the Canadian Recording Industry Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was given the Governor General’s award, and in 2001, the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame inducted him.

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