Canada’s Rita MacNeil Passes

rita macneil11

Rita MacNeil

Beloved Canadian country-folk singer and songwriter Rita MacNeil will be buried in her hometown on Cape Breton Island on Monday. She died at age 68 on Tuesday evening (April 16) as a result of complications from surgery.

During her career, she recorded 24 albums, had more than a dozen hits, starred in a national television series, earned three Juno Awards and was named a member of the Order of Canada. MacNeil was voted Entertainer of the Year at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards in 1991 and 1992.

Her biggest songs included 1987’s “Flying on Your Own,” which Anne Murray released as a U.S. single in 1988, and “Working Man,” which reached No. 11 on the British pop charts. MacNeil’s Canadian country hits also included “Leave Her Memory” (1987), “I’ll Accept the Rose” (1988), “Reason to Believe” (1988), “What Do I Think of You Today” (1990) and “Watch Love Grow Strong” (1991).

Between 1987 and 1994 she recorded eight albums that were Platinum-plus sellers north of the border. In 1990, she was Canada’s top selling country artist, outselling even Garth Brooks. The Canadian icon was also popular in Australia.

Her stardom was unconventional in several respects. MacNeil was short and heavyset with a cleft palate, in sharp contrast to the standards of beauty that are the norm in the music world. She was also extremely shy. In addition, she did not achieve wide popularity until she was well past the age of 40.

Nonetheless, she was adored by her fellow Canadians. Her Rita and Friends TV variety series was a staple on the CBC network from 1994 through 1997. It was watched by more than two million people a week. Her annual homespun Christmas variety telecasts were also very popular.

She published On a Personal Note as her memoir in 1998. In 2000, a biographical musical play based on her life was staged. It was titled Flying On Her Own.

MacNeil’s funeral will be held in the tiny village of Big Pond, Nova Scotia, at St. Mary’s Parish Church on Monday afternoon (April 22). She is survived by son Wade, daughter Laura, several grandchildren and a large extended family.


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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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