Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has passed away at the age of 84.
“Gordon Lightfoot passed away this evening at a Toronto hospital at 7:30 p.m.,” a statement on Lightfoot’s Facebook page announced Monday, May 1. The statement promised more information “to come”.
Born in Orillia, Ontario in 1938, Lightfoot became known and beloved as a folkloric troubadour in Canada, an artist who has remained true to his roots despite international success. Songs such as “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” portrayed the culture, landscape, and history of his Canadian home and grew into popular hits and signature tracks.
In the 2019 documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If you can read my mindHe called Jeddy Lee of Rush Lightfoot “our award-winning poet… our celebrated singer-songwriter”, while Tom Cochran noted, “If there were a Mount Rushmore in Canada, Gordon would be in it.”
Singing had been Lightfoot’s calling since his youth; He was in his church choir, played on local radio, and won singing competitions. At the age of 17, he wrote his first song, “The Hula Hoop Song,” a novelty song celebrating the popular game at the time. After two years of study at Los Angeles’ Westlake College of Music, he returned to Toronto and quickly integrated into the local folk scene. He was a member of the Singing Swinging Eight Country Hoedown TV show, and performed with Terry Whelan as a member of Two Tones.
With the boom of Bob Dylan and the Greenwich Village scene, Lightfoot was inspired to hone his songwriting craft. In 1965, he made his US debut at the Newport Folk Festival (the same event at which Dylan first became electric). Later that year, he appeared on The The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and performed at New York City Hall in his first solo show in the United States.
’65 was also the first time Lightfoot hit the charts – though not for his own vocals. Ian and Sylvia Tyson scored hits with “Early Morning Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me” (both songs were also covered by Peter, Paul and Mary). But when Marty Robbins’ version of “Ribbon of Darkness” topped the country charts, Lightfoot’s career really took off.