Music News Digest, Jan. 3, 2020

Andre Menard (pictured) is amongst those named to the Order of Canada, Justin Bieber returns to action, and CMW goes Dutch. Also in the news are CIMA, Bar Robo, The Small Glories, Lynn Harrison, the Sapphire Award, and farewells to Kelly Fraser, Bvlly, Allee Willis, Sleepy LaBeef, Roy Lesperance, Marty Grebb, Jerry Herman, and Neil Innes.

Music News Digest, Jan. 3, 2020

By Kerry Doole

Over the holiday period, Rideau Hall announced 120 companions, officers and members of the Order of Canada. Those honoured included such music industry notables as producer Brian Ahern (Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris), Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and Équipe Spectra co-founders Andre Menard and Alain Simard, Montreal festival producer Denyse McCann, singer/songwriter Sean McCann, and Darren Throop (Entertainment One). Of note: Duncan Sinclair, cited for health care advocacy, is the father of The Tragically Hip's Gord Sinclair, an earlier honouree. See the full list here 

Justin Bieber was active over the hols, announcing on Christmas Eve the release of a still-untitled new album and a docuseries in the new year. A new single, Yummy, is released today (Jan. 3). Bieber also offered details of a 50-city tour, launching May 14 in Seattle and wrapping up on Sept. 26 in New Jersey. Canadian shows are in Ottawa (Sept. 1), Quebec City (Sept. 3), Toronto (Sept. 10), and Montreal (Sept. 14). Bieber opens up about his creative and personal life through a 10-part documentary seres, Justin Bieber: Seasons, ahead of a career comeback after three years away from the spotlight. The doc launches on YouTube on Jan. 27.


The announcement was accompanied by a 90-second video clip in which Bieber says, “My past, my mistakes, all the things that I have been through. I believe that I am right where I’m supposed to be.” He adds, “We all have different stories, I’m just excited to share mine.”  Source: Celebrity Access

— Canadian Music Week is highlighting the Netherlands at the annual conference/fest in Toronto, May 20-22. The CMW ‘Focus on the Netherlands’ supports the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands by Canada. The activity is designed to build new bridges for bilateral music trade relations between the two nations. CMW prez Neill Dixon states, “We are proud to welcome the first official music mission to Canada from the Netherlands and look forward to opening new trade routes for both Dutch and Canadians to do business together.”


— Just prior to the holiday break, The Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) and MusicOntario filed a pre-budget submission to Ontario's Minister of Finance, Rod Phillips, on behalf of CIMA's Ontario-based membership as well as MusicOntario. In the submission, the trade orgs recommend that the Government of Ontario immediately reinstate the Ontario Music Fund's budget to $15 million annually. Click here to download a PDF of the publication.

— Ottawa has lost another live music venue with the closing of Bar Robo. The coffee house tweeted that "Bar Robo, Chinatown location, has been sold and will close its doors permanently as of Jan. 1. We will always look back with pride at the caliber of talent that graced our yellow-glow stage. We will continue to support local music in venues of all sizes in Ottawa and hope to see many local acts on our larger stage at Queen Street Fare."

— The nominees are out for the 2019 Artist, Album, and Song of the Year at this year's International Folk Music Awards, and two Canadian acts are cited. Winnipeg roots duo The Small Glories is nominated for Artist of the Year, and East Coast songsmith Dave Gunning is up for Song of the Year for All That’s Yet To Come. The winners will be announced at this year’s International Folk Music Awards on Jan. 22 at the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans. FAI members can vote here by Jan. 9.


— Toronto folk stalwart Lynn Harrison launches her sixth solo album, Something More, at Toronto’s Hugh’s Room Live on Jan. 26. The record was produced by Noah Zacharin in association with Douglas September, and both contribute instrumentally, alongside such notables as Denis Keldie, Alexander Brown, and George Koller. Of note: Lynn Harrisonis also an ordained Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister currently serving at First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto.


— The inaugural Sapphire Award for Canadian blues music videos will be presented at the Maple Blues Awards in Toronto on Feb. 3. Submissions are being accepted until Jan. 10. The winner gets a $1500 cash prize, and two runners-up receive $250. More info here


Kelly Amaujaq Fraser, a Winnipeg-based Inuk singer/songwriter, died on Dec. 24, age 26. Her family later reported Fraser took her own life.

Fraser first made a mark through YouTube for her Inuktitut cover of Rihanna's Diamonds in 2013, with the video gaining 421K views.

She released her debut album, Isuma, in 2014. Her second record, Sedna, was nominated for best Indigenous music album at the 2018 Juno Awards.

Fraser used her celebrity to promote Inuit rights and speak out against colonization and stereotyping. She advocated passionately on behalf of youth and Inuit throat singing. She received the 2019 Indspire Award, recognizing First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals who demonstrate outstanding achievement. In 2018, CBC aired a documentary profile, Kelly Fraser: Fight for theRights as part of The National's series Seen & Heard.

A GoFundMe campaign to support her siblings has raised over $42K. Sources: CBC News, CP, Winnipeg Free Press

Jahquar Stewart,  known as Toronto rap artist Bvlly, was shot and killed in Oshawa, ON, on Dec. 24, age 24. No arrests have been made.

Bvlly was known for songs like Jungle, No Light Bag, and Magicians, the videos for which collectively have more than one million YouTube views. He released his popular Made In Austria project in September via All Business Music. More recently, Bvlly was featured on the 6ixBuzz playlist, NorthernSound. Sources: CTV, Blog TO, Hip-Hop Canada


Allee (Alta Sherral) Willis, hit US songwriter, died on Dec. 24, aged 72 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Her best-known song is likely I’ll Be There for You, performed by The Rembrandts and the theme for smash TV show Friends (it went to No. 1 in Canada). Other hits included Earth Wind and Fire's September and Boogie Wonderland.

Willis collaborated with Brenda Russell, Steve Bray and Marsha Norman on the musical The Color Purple, which opened on Broadway in 2005 and won a cluster of Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards. After its 2016 Broadway revival, Willis was part of the team awarded a Grammy for best musical theatre album.

In 2018 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In recent years Willis had returned to performance, organising a string of fundraising events for her hometown under the title Allee Willis Marches on Detroit in 2011. Source: The Guardian

Sleepy LaBeef (born Thomas LaBeff ), US rockabilly musician, died on Dec. 26, age 84.

 He recorded his first singles in 1957 at the height of the rockabilly sound. He recorded for Mercury, Columbia and Rounder Records and had a minor hit in 1968 with the straight-up country song Every Day.  


LaBeef was a favourite at festivals where he was often the lone remaining active link to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. He earned his own chapter in one of the essential books about rock’s pioneers, Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians.

He was known for his constant touring and energetic live performances including a series of dates in 2019.   Sources: Legacy, Variety

Roy Lesperance, Windsor-based singer and musician best known for his work with The Chantones, died on Dec. 30, age 84.

Lesperance was a founding member of the 1950s and 1960s vocal group The Chantones, who had a No. 1 Canadian hit in 1957 with Anne Marie.

He also recorded and toured with Jack Scott, and added bass back-up vocals to many of the hits of the late rockabilly star, who also passed in 2019.

A service will be held Saturday Jan. 4. Visit for more information and to leave online condolences. Sources: Windsor Star, Warren Cosford

Marty Grebb, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in US pop act The Buckinghams before working with Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt, and others, has died at age 74. The Weight Band — which featured Grebb alongside members of the Band and Levon Helm Band — confirmed his death via Facebook, but didn't cite a cause.

The Chicago-born Grebb out as teenager playing blues sessions on piano and saxophone, then joned The Buckinghams, from 1966 to 68, He then worked as a producer, writer, arranger, touring member and studio player with an eclectic group of artists, including The Band, Leon Russell, Taj Mahal, Rufus Wainwright and Chicago, with whom he toured in 1980-81.

He was a longtime collaborator with Bonnie Raitt, both live and on-record. He also appeared on J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton's Grammy-winning 2006 LP, The Road to Escondido.

Grebb co-wrote songs for The Band's Jericho and Jubilation albums, adding keyboard work on the latter. The Weight Band, which features former late-period Band members Jim Weider and Randy Ciarlante, recorded one studio album with Grebb, 2018's World Gone Mad. Source: Ultimate Classic Rock

Jerry Herman, Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Jerry Herman whose Broadway hits included Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles, died Dec. 26, age 88, of pulmonary complications.

Herman's biggest hits rank as the most popular musicals of their eras, from Hello, Dolly! in the '60s to 1980s hit La Cage aux Folles.

He first found success on Broadway in 1961 with Milk and Honey. Hello, Dolly! opened in January 1964 and grossed more than $4 million its first year, winning a bevy of Tonys including best musical and a statuette for Herman’s score and lyrics

In 1966, Herman followed with another sizable musical smash, Mame. In 1998 he stepped onto the stage to perform in another revue of his material, An Evening With Jerry Herman, which enjoyed a modest limited run. The 2003 revue Showtune also featured Herman’s music.

He has also produced several “Celebrate Broadway” albums and the scores of the 1996 TV musical Mrs. Santa Claus, starring Angela Lansbury, and the film Barney’s Great Adventure. He was given a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2009. Source: Variety

Neil Innes, an English musician, comedian and songwriter best known as a member of The Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band and The Rutles, died on Dec. 29, age 75, of natural causes.

Innes joined musical comedy group the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in 1963, and is given much of the credit  for the group's UK success in the late '60s. After breaking up in 1970, the group subsequently reunited for short periods in 1972, 1988 and 2006.

He was also known as the “seventh Python” for the work he did with the Monty Python comedy troupe throughout the Seventies, contributing to several of the Python albums and movies, including 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Following the dissolution of Python, Innes teamed with Eric Idle to create the sketch show Rutland Weekend Television. It spawned the Rutles, a pastiche of the Beatles with Innes playing a Lennon-esque character called Ron Nasty. A TV film, All You Need is Cash, was released in 1978, and featured cameos from George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Bill Murray and Michael Palin. Innes most recently toured the UK with the Rutles last summer. 

Innes’ spoof songs were targeted by Beatles publisher ATV Music who successfully argued that Lennon and McCartney should be added to the songwriting credits, and settled out of court with Innes’ publisher. Sources: BBC, Rolling Stone, The Guardian

Dave Loggins
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame

Dave Loggins

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