Music News Digest, March 23, 2020

Manitoba Music launches an emergency COVID-19 relief fund, URGNT live streams concerts in Toronto, and Jessie Reyez earns a glowing review. Also in the news are the Oshawa Music Awards, Leonard Cohen, Home Routes, The Casbah, Garth Brooks, Sean Cunnington, Corb Lund, Randy and Tal Bachman, Jewel, and farewell Kenny Rogers (pictured), Wray Downes, Ted Moses, Marcelo Peralta, and Aurlus Mabélé.

Music News Digest, March 23, 2020

By Kerry Doole

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Friday (March 20), Manitoba Music launched an emergency financial relief fund to help Manitoban music entrepreneurs. Manitoba Music’s Board of Directors is seeding the fund with $20K to begin dispersals of micro-grants before the end of the month. An intake process with more detail will be available soon, and will explain how the fund will be administered and who will be eligible. People interested in supporting the fund with donations can do so at Manitoba Music is a not-for-profit, member-based association that does not have charitable status and donors will not receive a charitable receipt. For more info, visit here  


– Also in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Toronto musician Mark Marczyk of Lemon Bucket Orkestrahas created URGNT. This is a live-streamed concert series in Toronto with local artists performing in now-empty venues, seeking to aid those in the industry during the pandemic. Two successful performances have streamed so far, featuring Measha Brueggergosman (watch it here) and Moskitto Bar. Next up on the schedule is Moscow Apartment at Antikka Café & Records tonight (March 23).  Other artists enlisted for the series include Skratch Bastid, Quique Escamilla, Digging Roots, Han Han, Okan, Allison Au Quartet, Gryphon Trio, and Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Details re their concerts TBA. An associated GoFundMe campaign has raised $15K of a $40K goal.

– Rising Canadian pop/R&B star Jessie Reyez releases her keenly-awaited full-length debut, Before Love Came to Kill Us, on March 27, via FMLY/Island Records. It has just received a glowing 4 out of 5 stars review in The Guardian, as Kitty Empire's artist of the week. Empire writes: "On her debut album, the breakup-fuelled Before Love Came to Kill Us, Toronto’s R&B star-in-waiting Jessie Reyez makes herself unforgettable pretty much from the word go... There is no sense that Reyez is making anything other than her own record, serving the tired trope of heartbreak up in a most engaging way." Read the full review here.


– The Oshawa Music Awardsscheduled for April 3 and April 4 at the Oshawa Music Hall, have been cancelled. Details for an alternative OMA Winner Celebration event will be announced later. The presentation of each award will proceed via a series of live-streamed segments that can be viewed on  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ticketholders may obtain a refund, or they can opt to donate the funds of their ticket to the Unison Benevolent Fund. All ticket holders will be invited to the later OMA Winner Celebration event with special benefits for their earlier support.

– Last night (March 22),  Montreal hosted a Facebook event that featured residents singing Leonard Cohen's So Long, Marianne from their balconies. The purpose was to lift spirits while encouraging social distancing in the fight against COVID-19. Cohen's friend Martha Wainwright reportedly acted as a "virtual choirmaster." Sources:  MTL blog, Exclaim

– During the COVID-19 crisis, Home Routes/ Chemin Chez Nous is presenting its Season 13 Artists’ concerts online, via Facebook live and YouTube, in place of previously scheduled tours. The org terms this a “national folk festival online.” For financial support, performers share a link for patrons to ‘donate now” during their live concert, so viewers can “pay what they want" through this virtual “tip jar.” Performers over the next week include Sherry Ryan, Sherman Downey, Willi Carlisle, and The Schotts. More info here


– As COVID-19 continues to devastate Canada’s live music scene, look for more imperilled venues to seek your support. One of Hamilton’s most important music clubs, The Casbah, is doing just that. It has launched Indie Rock Relief, encouraging local music lovers to donate $20 (or more).  Donors will be added to a list of people with a free invite to a future “Thank You Concert” the club will host when the dust settles. For queries, contact


– The latest artist to join the fast-developing live-stream concert trend is Garth Brooks. The country superstar will perform an acoustic concert tonight (March 23). He and wife Trisha Yearwood have been taking requests from fans on all his social media platforms. The set will run for 30 minutes on Monday and will not be posted after-the-fact. The concert is also slated to air on Sirius XM's The Garth Channel (Channel 55). Fans should tune in to Brooks' page on Monday at 6 pm CST. Source: WZTV

– Milton, Ontario, musician Sean Cunnington, died on March 18 from OVID-19, the province's second confirmed fatality from the coronavirus. He was 51. Cunnington wasthe guitarist for Elmwood Underground and also worked as a producer, engineer, songwriter and session guitarist.

– Alberta country-roots singer-songwriter Corb Lund live-streamed a show on Instagram on Saturday, and has two more sets, for Wednesday and Friday (March 25 and 27) at 4 pm Pacific time. He also says that he'll be taking requests - "If I can remember them." Source: Georgia Straight

– Father and son combo Randy and Tal Bachman team up for a joint livestream, set to air via YouTube tonight (March 23) at 6 pm PT.  The 30-minute performance will be streamed from Randy’s home studio on Vancouver Island. Click here to access it.

– On Saturday night, multi-platinum artist Jewel hosted Live From San Quarantine: A Livestream Concert via her Instagram and Facebook to raise the necessary funds to benefit her Never Broken program,  powered by the Inspiring Children Foundation, which was due to raise $1.8 million at a fundraiser that has since been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. More info here  



Kenny Rogers, one of the biggest US pop and country stars of the ‘70s and ‘80s, died on March 20, of natural causes, at age 81.

He is the 10th best-selling male artist in US history in terms of album sales. Rogers had announced a farewell tour in 2015 and was able to keep it going through December 2017. In April 2018, shortly before he was to spend a few months finishing out the tour after a break, he announced that he was having to call off the remaining dates (including a planned appearance at the Stagecoach Festival in California), due to unspecified “health challenges.”

A special, Biography: Kenny Rogers, had been announced by A&E earlier this month, set to air April 13. The special is said to be built around footage from the all-star salute Rogers received in Nashville on Oct. 25, 2017, at the Bridgestone Arena. Those paying homage then included Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, Don Henley, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town, Reba McEntire, the Flaming Lips, and The Judds.

Rogers’ signature song The Gambler was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2018. It was the most recent of a lifetime of honours bestowed on the singer, which included induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame (in 2013), three Grammys and six CMA Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.


Rogers was one of the progenitors of country-pop crossover at the superstar level. “I came into country music not trying to change country music but trying to survive,” he said in a 2016 interview with “And so I did songs that were not country but were more pop.”

He first made a mark in the pop and rock genres. As a 20-year-old, his single That Crazy Feeling (recorded under the name Kenneth Rogers) went gold. He later joined a jazz group, The Bobby Doyle Trio, as a standup bassist.

In 1966, Rogers joined folk combo The New Christy Minstrels, which then reformed as the First edition. That group had pop hits with the psychedelic Just Dropped In (To See  What Condition My Condition was In) and Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town.

The group broke up in 1974, and Rogers launched his solo career. 1977's Lucille was both a pop and country hit, as was his 1978 signature song, The Gambler, one that spawned a hit TV movie of the same name.

Along with releasing a string of chart-toppers, Rogers worked as a TV actor and host of several TV specials.  He filmed two TV series, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition and Rollin’ in Toronto. A keen businessman, he led several ventures over the years, mainly in property and the restaurant sector.

Rogers had 20 solo No. 1 singles on the country charts from 1977-87. Two of them, his 1980 reading of Lionel Richie’s Lady and his 1983 collaboration with Dolly Parton, Islands in the Stream (penned by the Bee Gees), also topped the pop lists. He worked successfully with a number of other female vocalists, including Dottie West, Sheena Easton, Kim Carnes and Anne Murray.

On Greg Simpson’s Facebook page, Toronto record label exec Scoot Irwin shares many memories of working with Rogers. He recalls that “after a concert at Maple Leaf Gardens, we had a reception back at the Harbour Castle, where I had the honour of presenting Kenny with a Diamond Award, for sales in excess of 1,000,000 copies of his Greatest Hits album. At the time Kenny received his Diamond Award, there were only 2 others that had been issued in Canada. One was for Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and the other was Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.  Sources: Variety, AP, BBC, Greg Simpson, Scoot Irwin


Wray Downes, a Canadian jazz pianist, died on March 19, age 89. No cause of death given.

The Toronto-born Downes was classically trained, having studied at Trinity College, London, but he began playing jazz in 1952 as a student at the Paris Conservatoire. While in France, he played with Sidney Bechet and Bill Coleman. After returning to Canada in the middle of the decade, he played with Oscar Peterson and was a recurring house pianist at the Town Tavern in Toronto, playing with Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Clark Terry, and Lester Young. He played for many years with Peter Appleyard and Dave Young, and also worked with Archie Alleyne, Pete Magadini, Buddy Tate, and Dave Turner.

Canadian jazz authority Mark Miller notes that in 1990, "Downes moved to Montreal, where he would come to be revered as an elder jazz statesman for his playing and his teaching." Sources: Wikipedia, Mark Miller

Saxophonist Marcelo Peralta,  an Argentine saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist who had lived in Madrid for more than two decades, died March 10, of COVID-19. He was 59. He is believed to be the jazz world's first COVID-19 casualty.

Marcelo Peralta was renowned for his innovative approach to the avant-garde and South American musical traditions. He dabbled in multiple jazz idioms, from bebop standards to avant-garde creative music, but his most distinctive approach involved a hybrid of free improvisation with Argentine and other Latin American folk forms. In addition to the tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone saxophone, he played piano, accordion, quena (an Andean cane flute), aerophone, and several other instruments, which he used in interpreting his native musical traditions—and in adapting the jazz repertoire to those traditions.

He worked in Buenos Aires with top jazz musicians and singer/songwriters, and also was a saxophone soloist in the orchestra of the LRA Radio Nacional, Argentina’s state radio.

Peralta then joined saxophone quartet Cuatros Vientos, and, in 1985, co-founded the Grupo de Improvisación Tercer Mundo (Third World Improvisation Group). In 1988 he became intrigued with the possibilities of fusing Argentine folk music with free jazz. This became Peralta’s focus, first at the head of his own quintet, then in the early 1990s with his Saxópatas Big Band.

After resettling in Spain, he was a perennial performer at festivals there and he toured regularly through Europe and back to South America, recording several albums that set Argentine and Andean musical forms and rhythms within innovative soundscapes. He also continued his teaching career; at the time of his death, Peralta was a professor of saxophone, improvisation, and jazz ensemble at Madrid’s School of Creative Music. Source: Jazz Times

Ted Moses, a US composer, pianist, saxophonist, bandleader and teacher prominent on the Toronto jazz scene, died on March 5, age 76. No cause of death reported.

Moses moved from Tulsa to Toronto in 1967 and had a major impact there into the 1980s. He was also the driving force behind the Mother Necessity Jazz Workshop, which flourished in 1976-7 on Queen Street East (above the old Town Tavern) and again in 1981-2 in the basement of the pre-gentrified Drake Hotel. His quintet with his then-wife, flutist Kathryn Moses, was active in the ‘70s.

He recorded two LPs for the CBC, 1974's Sidereal Time ( recently reissued on Return To Analog) and More than Ever, and a third for his own Mother Necessity Music label, The Farther You Go, the Farther You See.

Canadian jazz author Mark Miller notes that "Moses' contributions were obviously many and various, not least the notion, all too uncommon in Toronto at the time, that musicians could and indeed should play original music rather than simply recycle the standards and classics of jazz history. His own writing, stylish, colourful and challenging, brought elements of rock to contemporary jazz."

Aurlus Mabélé (born Aurélien Miatshonama), a Congolese music star, died in hospital in Paris on March 19, age 67. Posts on social media from friends and relatives say he died of coronavirus but this is not confirmed.

Mabele was termed “the king of soukous” - high-tempo Congolese dance music popular across Africa.

He founded Les Ndimbola Lokole with his friends in Brazzaville and recorded some major African hits in the 1970s, such as Embargo, Zebola and Waka Waka. Later, he moved to Paris where he founded another band, Loketo, meaning "hips" in Lingala - the language of most soukous songs. With more than 10 million albums sold over a 30-year musical career, Aurlus Mabélé took soukous beyond Africa, around the world. Source: BBC

Françoise Hardy
Joost Evers / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Françoise Hardy


Obituaries: French Pop Icon Françoise Hardy, 'Suspicious Minds' Songwriter Mark James

This week we also acknowledge the passing of broadcaster/musician Jeremy Tepper, Tejano music TV host Johnny Canales and Scottish rocker Davie Duncan.

Françoise Hardy, a French pop singer, actress, author and model, died on June 11, at age 80 after a long battle with lymphatic cancer.

A Billboard obituary terms Hardy "one of the leading lights of the French yé-yé pop movement, and an inspiration to Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.

keep readingShow less