Folk singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has died at the age of 84

TORONTO (AP) — Gordon Lightfoot, the folk singer-songwriter known for “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Sundown” and songs that tell tales of Canadian identity, died Monday. He was 84 years old.

MP Victoria Lord said the musician died in a hospital in Toronto. The cause of his death was not immediately known.

One of the most popular voices to emerge from Toronto’s Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, Lightfoot has recorded 20 studio albums and penned hundreds of songs, including “Carefree Highway,” “Early Morning Rain,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

In the 1970s, Lightfoot earned five Grammy Award nominations, three platinum records, and nine gold records for albums and singles. He has given more than 1,500 concerts and recorded 500 songs.

He toured late in life. Just last month, he canceled upcoming US and Canadian shows, citing health issues.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “We have lost one of our greatest singer-songwriters.” “Gordon Lightfoot has captured the soul of our country in his music – and in doing so, has helped shape Canada’s acoustic landscape. May his music continue to inspire generations to come, and that his legacy will live on forever.”

Once covered by Bob Dylan’s “Rare Talent,” Lightfoot has been covered by dozens of artists, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Jane’s Addiction, and Sarah McLachlan.

Most of his songs are deeply autobiographical with lyrics that explore his own experiences in a candid manner and explore issues surrounding Canadian national identity. The Canadian Railways Trilogy depicts railroad construction.

He once said, “I simply write songs about where I am and where I come from.” “I take up situations and write poems about them.”

Lightfoot’s music had a style all its own. “It’s not country, it’s not folk, it’s not rock,” he said in a 2000 interview. However, it has subspecies of all three.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” for example, is a heartbreaking tribute to the 29 men who died in the 1975 shipwreck on Lake Superior during a storm.

While Lightfoot’s parents recognized his musical talents early on, he never set out to become a famous ballad player.

He started singing in his church choir and dreamed of becoming a jazz musician. At the age of 13, the soprano won the talent competition at the Kiwanis Music Festival, which was held at the Massey Hall in Toronto.

“I remember the excitement of being in front of the crowd,” Lightfoot said in a 2018 interview. “It was a stepping stone for me…”

The appeal of those early days held up and in high school, a barbershop quartet, The Collegiate Four, won a CBC talent contest. He played his first guitar in 1956 and began dabbling in songwriting in the months that followed. Perhaps distracted by his taste for music, he failed algebra the first time around. After taking the class again, he graduated in 1957.

By then, Lightfoot had penned his first serious composition—”The Hula Hoop Song,” inspired by the game that was sweeping through culture. Attempts to sell the song went nowhere, so at the age of 18, he headed to the United States to study music for a year. The trip was funded in part by money saved from a job delivering linens to resorts around his hometown.

Life in Hollywood wasn’t right, and it wasn’t long before Lightfoot returned to Canada. Vowing to move to Toronto to pursue his musical ambitions, he took any available job, including a position at a bank before becoming a square dancer on CBC’s Country Hoedown.

His first gig was at Fran’s Restaurant, a family-owned downtown restaurant enjoying his popular vibes. It was there that he met fellow musician Ronnie Hawkins.

The singer was living with a few friends in a condemned building in Yorkville, then a bohemian area where future stars including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell would learn their trade in smoky clubs.

Lightfoot made his famous radio debut with “Remember Me) I’m the One” in 1962, which led to a number of hits and partnerships with other local musicians. When he began playing the Mariposa Folk Festival in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario that same year, Lightfoot forged a relationship that made him the festival’s most loyal performer.

By 1964, he was getting positive word-of-mouth around town and audiences began to gather in increasing numbers. By the following year, Lightfoot’s song “I’m Not Sayin'” became a hit in Canada, which helped spread his name in the United States.

A couple of covers of other artists didn’t hurt. Marty Robbins’ 1965 recording of “Dark Ribbon” reached No. 1 on the US country charts, while Peter, Paul & Mary’s composition Lightfoot, “For Lovin’ Me,” took the Top 30 in the US. The song, which Dylan once said he wished he’d recorded, has since been covered by hundreds of other musicians.

That summer, Lightfoot performed at the Newport Folk Festival, the same year that Dylan thrilled crowds when he shed his folk persona by playing electric guitar.

With the folk music boom of the late 1960s coming to an end, Lightfoot was already transitioning into pop music with ease.

In 1971, he debuted on the Billboard chart with the song “If You Could Read My Mind”. It reached No. 5 and has since spawned dozens of covers.

Lightfoot’s popularity peaked in the mid-1970s when his single and album “Sundown” topped the Billboard charts, the first and only time he had done so.

During his career, Lightfoot has collected 12 Juno Awards, including one in 1970 when he was named the Gold Leaf.

In 1986, he was inducted into the Canadian Recording Industry Hall of Fame, which is now the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He received the Governor General’s Award in 1997 and was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

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