McKennitt shocked, honoured at award
‘Eclectic Celtic’ singer-songwriter to enter hall of fame
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Loreena McKennitt, the Morden-born singer-songwriter known for a unique brand of “eclectic Celtic” recordings, will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame March 8.
The announcement is to take place this morning in Toronto but McKennitt, who has sold 14 million records around the world, confirmed the news in an interview with the Free Press Tuesday afternoon.
“I was surprised and shocked of course, but at the end of the day I’m honoured to be recognized,” the 66-year-old McKennitt said from her home in southwestern Ontario. “We don’t get up in the morning necessarily to get these honours but it’s nice when they occur.”
It was three albums of McKennitt songs released in the 1990s — The Visit, The Mask and the Mirror and The Book of Secrets — that launched her into stardom, owing to ethereal songs such as 1994’s The Mystic’s Dream and The Mummer’s Dance, which reached the top 10 on Canada’s singles chart in 1997.
In all, she’s released 10 studio albums and seven live records, including 2022’s Under a Winter’s Moon. She’s won two Juno Awards and been nominated for two Grammys.
“The fact The Mummer’s Dance did so well as it did was quite a surprise in itself,” she says. “In my unique catalogue and songs the other pieces would be like The Mystic’s Dream or Dante’s Prayer, pieces that have also been licensed into other films.”
The honour also includes her songwriting credits in movies, whether for the National Film Board in the 1980s or The Santa Clause, the 1994 Christmas comedy starring Tim Allen.
Her songwriting style is a huge contrast from most inductees to the hall of fame, which in 2022 included Bryan Adams, Alanis Morissette and David Foster. Instead of loud and proud electric guitars, McKennitt’s known for her elegant harp and accordion-playing.
“A lot of my songwriting has been inspired by pursuing the history of the Celts, different parts of Europe and Asia Minor,” she says. “When I’m working on a song, I actually have an image in my mind I’m trying to paint, using the instruments in the studio.”
The official induction takes place March 8, International Women’s Day, as part of a Women in Music Canada Honours event in Toronto.
“The music industry has been predominantly a male-oriented one and I think I feel I’m in the company of great artists like Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang and Alanis Morissette,” she says.
While McKennitt moved to Ontario in 1981 to perform with the Stratford Festival and has maintained her residence in the region since, she says her Manitoba roots remain strong, whether through family, who live just outside Winnipeg and maintain a cattle farm near Morden, or longtime friends.
“I talk about it all the time… growing up in this small community of Morden, learning to play piano and singing in a children’s choir at the age of five,” she says. “(I’m) just so grateful to have grown up in such a musical community. There was music all the time, festivals, operettas, music at church, variety night. There was music all the time.”
Like so many Manitoba singer-songwriters, McKennitt got an early taste of performing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, in her case its inaugural edition in 1974, when she was a teenage folkie who enjoyed Joni Mitchell’s landmark album, Blue.
“That was a great opportunity to get my professional feet wet,” she says, remembering playing in city folk clubs while finishing high school at Balmoral Hall before getting an invitation by folk fest founder Mitch Podolak.
The hall of fame accolade adds to McKennitt’s wide variety of honours. She became a member of the Order of Manitoba in 2003, a member of the Order of Canada a year later and was named a knight in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France in 2013.
She’s also built a relationship with Canada’s military, firstly as an honorary colonel with the Winnipeg-based 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and in 2014, as honorary colonel for the entire RCAF.
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.