Legendary Maritime folksinger and feminist Rita MacNeil has died, at the age of 68

by Michelle Lovegrove Thomson on April 17, 2013Comments Off

The Cape Breton singer died on Tuesday as a result of complications from surgery. She recorded 24 albums over her career, and her song “Working Man” will live on as an evocative and emotional tale of mining-culture in the mid-Twentieth century. I would describe her sound as Celtic showtunes, or 80s adult contemporary imbued with local flair. MacNeil’s Christmas TV specials were a delight. At the core of each song—the lyrical heart—was an evident love of the east coast life.

In 2008, it was widely reported that the RCMP had maintained a file on MacNeil in the 1970s, before she had embarked on a singing career, tracking her “Women’s Liberation” activities. As noted in a Toronto Star article from August 2008,

In the early 1970s, MacNeil was a married mother of two children and living in east-end Toronto. Every Tuesday night, she’d attend downtown meetings with women from all walks of life where, MacNeil says, they talked mostly about equal rights. The Mounties infiltrated the Toronto Women’s Caucus, starting in the late 1960s. The force kept tabs on the group’s activities and compiled biographical sketches of its members, including MacNeil.

In the article MacNeil quips, “What’s radical about equal pay for equal work? And trying to empower women to reach the potential that they have? The only thing I’m sorry about now is I didn’t know I was under surveillance, or I would have got them to drive me home.”

Rita represented the women and men of the Maritimes with her beautiful, genuine, and passionate voice. Her music will be missed.

On Rita & Cape Breton

ECMA Tribute to Rita in 2005: