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This article was published 3/11/2018 (1123 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In her more than 40-year career, Manitoba musician and activist Heather Bishop has done just about everything.
In addition to creating 15 acclaimed folk and children’s albums, Bishop has been a force in fighting for both women’s and LGBTTQ* causes for decades and was one of the first women to form an independent feminist movement in Canada. She has spearheaded equal pay campaigns, worked to ban discrimination of any kind in the workplace, and was a founding member of the first lesbian organization in Manitoba.
Musically, Bishop was a groundbreaker, forming an independent record label, Mother of Pearl Records Inc., in 1976 that helped kick off the continuing trend of independent labels in Canada that have since become part of the foundation of our national music scene.
She has been awarded the Order of Canada, the Order of Manitoba, an honorary doctorate of laws and has been appointed to the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointment by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. She’s an avid carpenter, plumber, electrician, auto mechanic and talented visual artist. She’s a singer, a songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist and one of the most important members of Manitoba’s music community.
And now, at 69 years old, she’s ready to hang up her musical hat and will take the stage at the West End Cultural Centre tonight for her final performance, putting a period — or rather, an exclamation point — on a staggering and incredibly impactful career.
She chatted with the Free Press from her home in southern Manitoba to share a few memories and discuss how she’s feeling about bringing her music career to a close.
Free Press: You’ve been retired from performing for a few years now, so why did you decide to do come back to do one last big solo show?
Heather Bishop: It’s been over the last eight years I’ve come off of the road, so it’s been the difference between doing 200 shows a year and two shows a year. The West End Cultural Centre called me and said, ‘Would you do a show?’ and I said, ‘Oh, I’m retired.’ And then the thought went through my head that I never really put an end to it in Winnipeg, it just kind of drivelled out and I really wanted to just celebrate… Winnipeg is my hometown — I wanted to celebrate with my hometown fans, my core family, and put an end to it that way.
FP: How are you feeling about putting this kind of finality on things?
HB: It’s an interesting thing — in a way I love that I’m doing it, because for me, it’s putting a period on it and then I can move forward with the next piece. And it doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally show up singing a couple songs somewhere, but it means I’m not ever going to do a big show again.
On the other hand, it’s really amazing because I’m going to do songs from all of my albums and as I’ve been going through everything in my whole career, it’s been really uplifting to have all those memories and... there’s so much good material. It’s like, "Wow we really sang some great songs."
FP: I can’t even imagine how difficult it’s been putting a set list together for this.
HB: I decided I’m just going to do it chronologically. I’m going to start with the very first album and, interestingly, I’m going to bring it back there at the very end… my career actually started in a women’s dance band in 1972 in Saskatchewan and at the end of the night in that band I would always sing Tennessee Waltz, so it seems to me I’ll open with a song from my very first album and I’ll close with Tennessee Waltz. And then everything in between. (laughs)
FP: After all that you’ve accomplished in your career, not just musically, but with your activism for women’s rights and LGBTTQ* rights and your work in the independent music scene in Canada — not to mention the hand you have in lots of local music communities and organizations in Manitoba — are you happy, or content, with the career you’ve built?
HB: Yeah, I’m really happy, and mostly my happiness comes from a heart full of gratitude that I’ve been able to be involved in so many different things and help people realize their dreams and their goals. Somebody referred to me as a key-maker, that I make the keys that others can use to move forward, and I really liked that. If, in fact, in my life I’ve been a key-maker then I’m very happy with the path that I’ve trod.
FP: I know this is a hard question, but is there a pivotal moment or career highlight that stands out in your memory?
HB: I know Saturday night it going to be one of them… You know there’s so many, I can’t even begin, but I’ll tell you one time: singing with the Vancouver Men’s Choir, 60 male voices and I did Warrior, and to this day (it) still makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck — the powerful voices singing that anthem about powerful women. It was just so wonderful.
FP: On Saturday you’ll also be showcasing some of your visual art. Is this a first for you?
HB: I have shown my work occasionally before, but the thing about this one is there’s a whole new body of work that I haven’t shown before, so I’m going to have that. It’s a new series called The Guardians of the Light and then I will also show some of my other stuff… My collection has grown, so now I’m at a point where I’m going to start selling my originals, and I wasn’t really doing that before, so that’s what will be different about this show: there will be lots of originals for sale.
FP: Is there anything you’d like to say to your local fans who have supported you and enjoyed your musical work for the last 46 years?
HB: Beyond "thank you," I’m humbled and honoured and it’s always been a partnership, because without them there would have been no reason to sing. So in a sense, I have such gratitude for them trusting me with the journey that we’ve travelled together, because I know that in a way, the kind of performer that I am, our fans and our community trust us to hold true those values that we cling to and the vision we have for the world we want and to help us through the really difficult emotional times.
That’s quite a task to be charged with and I’m so honoured that I’ve been trusted with it, and I only hope that I’ve lived up to it.
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Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.