Canadian country-folk singer Rita MacNeil passed away yesterday of complications following abdominal surgery. She was 68.
A native of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, MacNeil did not come to prominence as a performer until her early 40s when she received the opportunity to showcase her vocal talents at Expo ’86 in Vancouver. MacNeil was signed to a recording contract and released several platinum selling albums in Canada through the remainder of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. MacNeil also enjoyed a following in Australia and the UK.
I best remember MacNeil for her CBC variety show Rita & Friends which she hosted between 1994 and 1997. MacNeil was a highly unlikely host for a variety show given her shyness and rotund physical appearance. Yet MacNeil possessed an unpretentious folksy charm and because of it the show became an unexpected hit. However, the CBC never truly embraced the show and cancelled it at the height of its popularity. The CBC never appreciated what it had.
Here is McNeil singing “Working Man”, a song about Cape Breton coal miners.