Cape Breton’s “first lady of song” Rita MacNeil passed away Tuesday night from surgery complications.


Many flags across the Nova Scotia island are flying at half mast in memory of the beloved singer.  MacNeil was 68 at the time of her passing.  She was born in Big Pond, N.S., and recorded an amazing  24 albums during her career, the latest released only four months ago.

Some of her most popular songs include, “Working Man,” “Flying on Your Own,” “Reason to Believe,” “I’ll Accept The Rose Tonight” and “Home I’ll Be.”

A recurring infection, the reason she was in hospital for surgery, had forced her to cancel recent performances.

No funeral or memorial services have been arranged as of yet but should be by Thursday or Friday.


MacNeil’s big breakthrough came when she was in her 40s, she won acclaim for her performance on stage at Expo ’86 in Vancouver.

“I hit the ground running and I never stopped,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press in 2004. “I don’t think I ever want to look at retirement, because if the songwriting is still there in some capacity, please God, if everything goes well, I’d still love to be doing that.”

MacNeil won the first of three Junos in 1987 at the age of 42 as most promising female vocalist.

She also won numerous East Coast Music Awards, Country Music Awards, and a Gemini for her CBC variety show Rita & Friends that ran from 1994 to 1997.

MacNeil was a Member of the Order of Canada and was awarded the Order of Nova Scotia.

Her autobiography, On a Personal Note , was published in 1998 and disclosed her years of sexual abuse by an uncle.


The announcement of her death on her website included this passage:

“A mother to Laura (Dana) and Wade (Lori), a grandmother, a dear friend, and a sister, Rita was a Canadian icon — a woman who had a dream that became a reality — who brought joy and inspiration to so many.

‘And you never let the hard times

Take away your soul

And you stopped the tears from falling

As you watched the young ones go

You’re as peaceful as a clear day

You’re as rugged as the seas

I caress you, oh, Cape Breton, in my dreams.’ ”

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