Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Celebration through song

American country music star/actor bringing message of hope to Aboriginal Day festivities

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Ask Billy Ray Cyrus what message he hopes to bring to this year's Aboriginal Day Live and Celebration concert in Winnipeg, and he'll refer you back to his catalogue of songs.

"If you've heard or read the lyrics to my (1997) song Trail of Tears, that'll really help answer your question," Cyrus says during a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "As a matter of fact, the lyrics of that song really speak to the reason that I knew, as soon as I was invited, that I really wanted to do this event."

Perhaps this passage from Trail of Tears holds the message that Cyrus, whose lineage includes Cherokee ancestry on his mother's side, is hoping to convey:

"God in heaven, hear my prayer if you are still above

Send the children hopes and dreams and lots and lots of love

For this I only ask of you to conquer all their fears

And let them soar like eagles across the trail of tears..."

"If you study the history of Native Americans, you'll see that there are many trails of tears," Cyrus adds. "And when this (Aboriginal Day) opportunity came up, I felt this was something that I really wanted to be part of, that I needed to be part of. I still, myself, long to connect with the spirituality of my Native American ancestors, and I want to know more and learn more and feel more. And this just felt like something I'm supposed to do."

Cyrus, 52, will headline the concert that wraps up Aboriginal Day Live and Celebration today at The Forks. The free show, which begins at 8 p.m. on the Scotiabank Stage, also features performances by Leonard Sumner, LightningCloud, Mike Bone, Murray Porter & Friends, Nelson Tagoona and Yvonne St. Germaine.

A second Aboriginal Day concert will take place simultaneously in Halifax, featuring A Tribe Called Red, Ashley MacIsaac, Sierra Noble, Black & Grey, Inez, J. Hubert Francis & Eagle Feather, Joey Stylez, Melissa Girvan and Radio Radio.

Portions of both shows will be included on APTN's Aboriginal Day Live and Celebration broadcast, airing live today at 8 p.m.

Cyrus is perhaps best known these days as the father of often-controversial performer and tabloid target Miley Cyrus, but long before selfies, Wrecking Ball, twerking and even Hannah Montana, the Kentucky native was one of the biggest names in country music.

Launched to mega-stardom by the breakout 1992 album Some Gave All and its dance-craze-inspiring single Achy Breaky Heart, Cyrus has released nearly two dozen albums, in genres ranging from country to gospel to family-friendly to alternative rock, and has had numerous Top 40-charting singles in each of the past three decades.

In the late '90s, he parlayed his music-industry success into an acting career, appearing in several movies and starring in the TV series Doc from 2001 to 2004. From 2006 to 2011, he co-starred alongside daughter Miley in Hannah Montana.

As he prepares to cross the border north into Canada for the Aboriginal Day Live celebration, Cyrus is quick to give credit to this country for much of the success he has enjoyed in recent years.

"The whole phase of me becoming an actor was centred in Toronto, Canada," he explains. "We did 88 episodes of Doc right there in Toronto, and that was the foundation of my acting career.

"Not only that, but without Toronto, I'm not sure there would have been a Hannah Montana -- or, at least, a Hannah Montana that was played by Miley Cyrus. It was in Toronto that I took Miley to see the play Mamma Mia!, and after she saw it, Miley sat there and said, 'That's what I want to do, Daddy.' She started acting on my show, Doc, and she started studying with some of the great coaches that were available in the Toronto theatre community. She became a student of acting, and she was learning from the best.

"She was surrounded by great actors and actresses -- people like Derek McGrath, Ron Lea and Andrea Robinson -- that she absorbed and learned from. And so did I: I took my lessons in acting from the great people I was surrounded by in Doc, and that experience played a big part in making me who I am as an actor."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 G1

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