Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot, Canada’s most successful and renowned singer, was born on November 17, 1938 to parents Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Sr. and Jessica Lightfoot in Orillia, Ontario. He was truly a gifted child and his parents appreciated and supported his talent. He studied piano and voice to learn the basics of both classical and pop styles of music. He was a part of the St. Paul’s United Church choir from an early age, where he came under the guidance of choir master Ray Williams, whom he gives credit for teaching him how to express his emotions through his singing and have confidence in his voice. He also won the second position in a local talent competition when he was ten and later in 1951, after winning a Toronto Kiwanis Festival music contest, he performed as part of a special concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall. He taught himself how to play the guitar and drums, and began performing on gigs with a band named ‘Teen Timers’.

After graduating from high school, Lightfoot moved to California where he enrolled in the Hollywood’s Westlake College of Music to study orchestration and jazz composition. He did not get accustomed to life in Hollywood and decided to move back to Toronto and began concentrating on building his career in folk and country music. He paired up with singer Terry Whalen and together they formed the ‘Two Tones’, even though the duo was short-lived it became successful enough to play at the Canada’s celebrated Mariposa Folk Festival. Gordon Lightfoot earned some recognition as a songwriter but his fame spread when his first debut album ‘Lightfoot’ was released in 1966. The album featured some of his famous songs such as “For Lovin’ Me”, “Early Mornin’ Rain”, “Steel Rail Blues” and “Ribbon of Darkness” and was crowd pleasing in Canada as well as internationally. However, his fame as a songwriter grew more than his acclaim as a singer, famous singers such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley recorded cover versions of his songs. From 1967-1969, Lightfoot recorded 3 more albums and earned the status of a star, however, in the US his songs were mostly known in recordings by other artists.

This changed in 1971 when his own version of “If You Could Read My Mind” became a Top Ten hit and later, in 1974, his classic single, “Sundown”, soared up to No.1 on the American charts. Gordon’s career truly shot to stardom and he began touring, giving nearly fifty concerts a year. He underwent a creative revival in the 1990s and his songs began portraying personal as well as global issues. This made his music accessible and relatable to the general public as they could feel his emotions through his lyrics, and this led to a huge increase in his fan following. Songs such as “Alberta Bound” inspired by his meeting on a bus with a lonely teenage girl named Grace and “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” paying a tribute to the deaths caused in the Great Lakes ore carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald sinking sung his rich and strong voice touched the hearts of millions.

In 2002, he suffered a near-fatal abdominal haemorrhage that rendered him unable to perform. He survived the fight against his disease and was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the most prestigious honor the nation awards to civilians. The year 2004 saw him returning to the scene with the album Harmony and an appearance on Canadian Idol. To this date, Gordon Lightfoot remains the only Canadian artist to be able to earn recognition and success in his own country rather than settling in the US. He is absolutely regarded as a national treasure.

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