Another Loss of Canada

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Canadian singer Rita MacNeil dies at age 68

Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 17 2013, 9:46 AM EDT

Rita MacNeil is seen in a December 2004 file photo. (Blair Gable/St. Catharines Standard/The Canadian Press)

Rita MacNeil, the big-hearted, silver-throated singer from the coal mining area of Cape Breton died Tuesday night in hospital in Sydney, Nova Scotia from complications following stomach surgery. She was 68.

Best known for Working Man, Flying on Your Own, Reason to Believe, I’ll Accept The Rose Tonight and Home I’ll Be, MacNeil recorded more than 24 albums, won three Juno Awards, several East Coast Music Awards and a Gemini for the CBC TV variety show, Rita & Friends , which she hosted from 1994 to 1997.

From the archives: How Cape Breton nurtured Rita MacNeil’s music – and turned her into a star
From the archives: MacNeil has a voice that’s going places
From the archives: Cape Breton singer delivers extra bit of magic in concert
Success didn’t come early or easily to MacNeil, but her passion for writing and singing songs about life’s challenges and her love of family and friends found her a huge and loyal audience. She had her breakout performance at Expo 86 in Vancouver and won her first Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist the following year when she was 42.

Tributes poured in after news of her death was posted on MacNeil’s website. “I am deeply saddened by the loss of a dear sweet woman and a gifted singer-songwriter who represented women and her beloved Nova Scotia so eloquently in her songs,” said Anne Murray, a long time friend who also hails from Nova Scotia. Murray covered MacNeil’s Flying on Your Own in the late 1980s.

“The one vivid memory I have is when Rita was a guest on my show,” said singer Tommy Hunter. “Coming from a coal mining area she had a soft spot in her heart for those miners. When she sang Working Man there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Hunter remembered the warmth and sincerity that MacNeil conveyed through her songs to people in the studio audience and to the viewers at home. “It was evident that she touched them all from the many letters and comments we received after that show,” he said. “I have lost a good friend”

Born in Big Pond, Cape Breton on May 28, 1944, MacNeil was one of eight children of Neil and Catherine MacNeil. Her early life was tough. She wrote about her shyness, the bullying she endured because of her cleft palate, and love affairs gone wrong in her book, On A Personal Note.

In 1986 she opened Rita’s Tea Room in her hometown of Big Pond. It quickly became a tourist attraction.

MacNeil is survived by her daughter Laura, son Wade and her extended family.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

From the archives: How Cape Breton nurtured Rita MacNeil’s music – and turned her into a starIn photos: Singer Rita MacNeil through the yearsIn testosterone-fuelled sport of F1, Williams keeps it in the family
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