Gordon Lightfoot, Iconic Canadian Singer-Songwriter, Dies At 84

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Gordon Lightfoot, Iconic Canadian Singer-Songwriter, Dies At 84

Gordon Lightfoot, Canada's iconic folk singer-songwriter famed for songs like "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Sundown" as well as songs about Canadian identity, died on Monday. He was 84.

According to Representative Victoria Lord, the musician died at a Toronto hospital. His death cause was not immediately known.

Lightfoot was one of the most well-known voices to emerge from Toronto's Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, recording 20 studio albums and writing hundreds of songs, including "Carefree Highway," "Early Morning Rain," and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

Lightfoot had five Grammy nominations, three platinum records, and nine gold records for albums and songs in the 1970s. He has performed in over 1,500 shows and recorded 500 songs in the more than 60 years since he began his career.

He toured in his later years. He recently cancelled future gigs in the United States and Canada, citing health concerns.

"We have lost one of our greatest singer-songwriters," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Twitter.

"In his music, Gordon Lightfoot captured our country's spirit, and in doing so, he helped shape Canada's soundscape." May his music inspire future generations, and may his legacy live on in perpetuity."

Hundreds of musicians have covered his work, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Jane's Addiction, and Sarah McLachlan, who was once described as a "rare talent" by Bob Dylan.

The majority of his songs are extremely autobiographical, with lyrics that frankly probe his own experiences and discuss topics surrounding Canadian national identity. The "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" depicted the railway's construction.

"I just write songs about where I am and where I came from," he previously explained. "I take real-life situations and write poems about them."

Lightfoot's music had its own distinct style. "It's not country, folk, or rock," he declared in an interview in 2000. Nonetheless, it contains strains of all three.

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," for example, is a mournful homage to the 29 men who died in the ship's sinking in Lake Superior during a storm in 1975.

While his parents recognised his musical abilities early on, Lightfoot did not set out to become a famous balladeer.

He started singing in his church choir and aspired to be a jazz musician. At the age of 13, the soprano won a talent competition at Toronto's Massey Hall's Kiwanis Music Festival.

"I remember the thrill of being in front of a crowd," Lightfoot remarked in an interview in 2018. "It was like a stepping stone for me."

The appeal of those early days lingered, and his barbershop quartet, The Collegiate Four, won a CBC talent competition in high school. In 1956, he strummed his first guitar and began dabbling in music in the months that followed. He flunked algebra the first time, possibly due to his musical tastes. He graduated in 1957 after retaking the class.

Lightfoot had already written his first serious piece, "The Hula Hoop Song," inspired by the famous children's toy that was sweeping the culture at the time. Attempts to market the tune were futile, so at the age of 18, he moved to the United States to study music for a year. The trip was partially sponsored by money saved from a job delivering linens to resorts in the area.

However, life in Hollywood was not for Lightfoot, and he soon returned to Canada. He promised to travel to Toronto to pursue his musical dreams, accepting any job he could find, including a job at a bank, until obtaining a role as a square dancer on CBC's "Country Hoedown."

His first job was at Fran's Restaurant, a downtown family-run café that appreciated his folk inclinations. There, he met fellow musician Ronnie Hawkins.

The singer was living with a few buddies in a condemned building in Yorkville, which was then a bohemian neighbourhood where future stars like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell learned their trade in smoke-filled bars.

Lightfoot made his radio breakthrough with the single "(Remember Me) I'm the One" in 1962, which led to a string of hit tunes and collaborations with other local performers. Lightfoot established a bond with the Mariposa Folk Festival in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario, that same year, and became the festival's most loyal returning artist.

By 1964, he was spreading positive word of mouth around town, and audiences began to assemble in greater numbers. The next year, Lightfoot's song "I'm Not Sayin'" became a smash in Canada, helping to expand his popularity in the United States.

A number of other artists' covers didn't hurt either. Marty Robbins' 1965 rendition of "Ribbon of Darkness" achieved No. 1 on the country charts in the United States, while Peter, Paul, and Mary charted Lightfoot's original, "For Lovin' Me," in the United States. Hundreds of other musicians have covered the tune, which Dylan once claimed he wished he had recorded.

Lightfoot performed at the Newport Folk Festival that summer, the same year Dylan shocked audiences by ditching his folkie character in favour of an electric guitar.

As the folk music boom came to an end in the late 1960s, Lightfoot was already easing into pop music.

He earned his debut Billboard chart appearance in 1971 with "If You Could Read My Mind." It peaked at No. 5 and has generated a slew of covers since.

Lightfoot's success peaked in the mid-1970s, when "Sundown," both his song and album, topped the Billboard charts for the first and only time.

Lightfoot won 12 Juno Awards during his career, including one in 1970 when it was known as the Gold Leaf.

He was inducted into the Canadian Recording Industry Hall of Fame, now known as the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, in 1986. In 1997, he earned the Governor General's Award, and in 2001, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.

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