Canada’s music community is mourning the death of Rita MacNeil after the award-winning country and folk singer died April 16, following complications from surgery.

MacNeil was born in 1944 to a large family in Big Pond, Cape Breton Island, off Canada’s east coast, an area with a strong Scottish heritage. A shy woman, her career didn’t fully take off until she performed at Expo ’86 in Vancouver. During her life, MacNeil suffered many difficulties, including being born with a cleft palate and an early broken marriage, but she took inspiration from her home community and the women’s movement and ended up recording 24 albums and selling millions of records.

Playwright Charlie Rhindress said that “MacNeil’s artistry lies in the way she can turn the events of her life into something with which many people can identify.” Following her death, flags flew at half-mast on Cape Breton.


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