Gordon Lightfoot, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter, has died at the age of 84.
“Gordon Lightfoot passed away this evening in a Toronto hospital at 7:30 p.m.,” a statement on Lightfoot’s Facebook page announced on Monday, May 1st. The statement promised more information “to come.”
Born in Orillia, Ontario in 1938, Lightfoot became known and beloved as Canada’s folk troubadour, an artist who stayed true to his roots despite international success. Songs like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” depicted the culture, landscapes, and history of his Canadian home and grew to become both hits and signature tracks.
In the 2019 documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, Rush’s Geddy Lee called Lightfoot “our poet laureate… our iconic singer-songwriter,” while Tom Cochrane noted, “If there was a Mt. Rushmore in Canada, Gordon would be on it.”
Singing was Lightfoot’s calling from his youth; he was in his church’s choir, performed on local radio, and won singing competitions. At age 17, he penned his first song, “The Hula Hoop Song,” a novelty track celebrating the popular toy of the time. After two years of studying at Los Angeles’ Westlake College of Music, he returned to Toronto and soon embedded himself in the local folk scene. He was a member of the Singing Swinging Eight on the Country Hoedown TV show, and performed with Terry Whelan as a member of the Two-Tones.
As Bob Dylan and the Greenwich Village scene bloomed, Lightfoot was inspired to hone his songwriting craft. In 1965, he made his United States performance debut at the Newport Folk Festival (the same event where Dylan first went electric). Later that year, he appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and performed at New York’s Town Hall for his first Stateside solo show.
’65 was also the first time Lightfoot made it onto the charts — though not for his own singing. Ian & Sylvia Tyson scored hits with the Lightfoot-penned “Early Morning Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me” (both songs were also covered Peter, Paul and Mary). But when Marty Robbins’ version of “Ribbon of Darkness” topped the country charts, Lightfoot’s career really took off.
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