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Canada has a vast array of pretty amazing musicians that have played a strong role in Canadian culture over the years. Here is a list of my top 10 Canadian musicians who have made an influence on the culture of Canada:
1. Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2006)
Leonard Cohen was a legendary Canadian singer and songwriter. Known for his deep baritone voice and iconic song lyrics. He was also a guitarist. He learned to play at an early age. In the 1960s, Cohen composed his own pop and folk-rock songs. One of his most famous compositions includes the song “Hallelujah” which debuted in 1984. After several revisions, it took Cohen 4 years to complete the meaningful song.
“Hallelujah” is a spiritual song written by Cohen. It helped his career achieve lifelong success. Although the song was originally under-appreciated when it first came out in the 80s. It has since gone on to become a legendary song. It has been performed by many other singers over the years, re-adapted, and re-written.
Hallelujah, Cohen’s Signature Song
After a few years, “Hallelujah” became a Canadian classic. It was played by Bob Dylan in 1988. Then the Velvet Undergrounds” tackled it. Followed by Jeff Buckey on his record, Grace, in 1994. Soon enough, Hallelujah was covered by many other musicians, including Bon Jovi, and Bono. Even though the song was a huge hit, many people didn’t realize that Leonard Cohen actually wrote it.
In the Christian sense, the word “hallelujah” means to praise the Lord in expressions of joy and celebration. The meaning and cultural significance of the song have grown stronger over the years. It is remembered as Cohen’s most iconic song. In a world that’s been faced with a worldwide pandemic, the song “Hallelujah” has been a blessing to many seeking light at the end of the tunnel to this tragedy we are all facing.
Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010, he earned a Grammy Award for his lifetime achievement in Canadian music. He died at the age of 82. But his legend of being an iconic Canadian musician lives on.
2. Neil Young (1945 – )
Neil Young is a Canadian-born guitarist and singer-songwriter. He was born in Winnipeg. He began his musical career in the 1960s. During the span of his successful music career, he has earned many Grammy and Juno Awards. Young was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice during his career.
Young has lived in California since the late 60s. But, he still has Canadian citizenship and is an active member of Canada. In 2006, he was awarded the order of Manitoba. In 2009, he was awarded the officer of the order of Canada.
Cultural Contributions to Canada
Young is a humanitarian and an environmentalist who fights for many causes. In 2006, he dedicated songs to an album in support of soldiers, their families, and civilians. Environmentalism and activism became prominent in his songs from 1990 to 2000.
He was very vocal about the oil pipelines from Alberta to Texas. He compared the environmental aftermath of the oilsands in Fort McMurry, Alberta to the aftermath of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in WW2. Young is also an activist for the rights of the First Nations of Canada. Although he obtained dual citizenship in 2020, he is still an activist and humanitarian for Canadian causes that are important to him.
My favourite Neil Young song is “Harvest Moon.” It brings memories of the 90s flooding back to me.
3. Shania Twain (1965 -)
Shania Twain is a Canadian singer and songwriter. She has sold over 100 million records to date. This accomplishment has earned her the title of “best-selling” country female artist of all time.
Most active in the 90s, Twain received criticism for wearing crop tops on stage and portraying herself as a sex object to shamelessly sell her records. Despite the criticism, Twain went on to lead a successful career in the music industry. She continues to dress sexually. She refuses to conform to a proper style of clothing. Instead, she promotes embracing your femininity. She inspires other women to do the same. She uses lyrics in her songs to help portray her messages.
Despite the criticism she’s faced, Twain’s music has been much loved by many adoring fans in Canada and around the world.
Twain sings a mixture of country and pop music. Her record “The Woman In Me” has paved the way for other women to be themselves and not to worry about what others think of them.
4. Jeff Healey ( 1966 – 2008)
Jeff Healey was a talented singer, songwriter and guitar player. He was born in Toronto, Canada. He was adopted as a baby. When Healey was one, he lost his eyesight to a rare type of cancer.
At the age of three, Healey taught himself to play the guitar by holding it in his lap to play. He went on to play jazz and blues as he got older.
He formed the Jeff Healey Band in the 80s. One of his songs, “Angel Eyes” reached the top five on the U.S. Top 100 music charts. Two of his songs, “I Think I Love You Too Much,” and “How Long Can a Man Be Strong” made it to the top ten on the Canadian music charts. His cover band was also featured in the movie “Roadhouse” with Patrick Swayze.
Along the way, Healey discovered and promoted the careers of other Canadian musicians, including Terra Hazelton, Phillip Sayce, and Amanda Marshall. In 2004, Healey was inducted into the Canada Walk of Fame for his contributions to the Canadian music industry.
Jeff Healey’s Cancer Spreads
In 2007, Healy’s cancer spread to his legs and lungs. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 41. His legacy lives on. He inspired many young and old people from Canada and around the world to reach for the stars. Don’t let your deficits hold you back.
“We are all put on this earth for a purpose and if you don’t try, you will never succeed.”
5. Gordon Lightfoot (1938 – )
Gordon Lightfoot is a popular Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. Born in Orillia, Canada, Lightfoot played football in high school. A football scholarship earned him a ticket to McGill School of Music. There was no looking back from thereon.
Lightfoot achieved international success with many top 40 hits, including, “Early Morning Rain,” “Ribbon of Darkness.” “If You Could Read My Mind,” and “Rainy Day People.” His songs were also recorded by other famous singers, including Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, among others.
In 1967, Lightfoot was invited to do the “Canadian Railway Trilogy” in honour of Canada’s Centennial year. He also wrote a hit song called “The Wreck of Edmond Fitzgerald” about the sinking of a ship on Lake Superior.”
Contributions to Canada
Lightfoot introduced his musical talent to the world and defined folk-pop music during the 60s and 70s. He received many awards for his recognition, including the Order of Canada in 1970 for his contributions to folk music in Canada. He also earned the Queen”s Diamond Jubilee Award in 2012, and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, along with many others too numerous to mention. Lightfoot’s contributions to the Canadian culture of folk music are significant in Canadian history.
6. Ann Murray (1945 – )
Ann Murray is a Canadian singer and guitar player. The first female Canadian singer to hit number one on the U.S. music charts, Murray also won a Gold record for her 1070 song “Snowbird.”
A talented Canadian musician, Murray paved the way for other female artists such as K.D Lang, Shania Twain and Celine Dion. Murray was also the first woman in Canada to ever win “Album of the Year” at the Country Music Awards in 1984.
She won several awards throughout her career, including four Grammys, and two Canadian Country Music Awards, among many others. She was also inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
In 1985, Murray sang “Tears Are Not Enough,” a famine relief song, to help raise awareness of the cause. She has also served on the chair of Save the Children Canada, among several other charities.
Anne Murray has made several considerable contributions to the Canadian songwriting history of Canada throughout her career as a Canadian musician.
7. K.D Lang (1961 – )
K.D. Lang is a well-known Canadian musician recognized for her unique style of singing and writing country and pop songs. She has earned many Grammy and Juno awards for her incredible musical talents, including the hit songs “Miss Chatelaine” and Constant Craving.
Lang has also performed songs on movie soundtracks. She worked alongside other famous artists, including Anne Murray, Roy Orbison and Elton John, among others.
She has significantly contributed to rights activists in Canada, such as gay rights, animal rights and Tibetan rights. KD Lang also practices Buddhism.
Lang, who openly announced she was a lesbian in 1992, has fought hard for gay rights over the years. She has also supported several other causes, such as AIDS research, and Artists Against Racism, a Canadian charity.
Lang Honored For Her Contributions to Canada
In 2011, Lang was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame for her contributions made towards Canadian music and for supporting the equality of people in Canada and the rest of the world.
In a 2016 interview, Lang spoke about coming out of the closet saying, “it was the most responsible thing to do for both society and for myself.”
Lang’s openness towards her sexuality as a famous Canadian musician has been an inspiration to many others who are fighting the same battle. She chose to come out of the closet publicly in the 90s. A time when it wasn’t easily accepted by everyone. That took a lot of courage for her and paved the way for others to more readily have the courage to embrace their own sexuality.
8. Gord Downie ( 1964 – 2017)
Gord Downie was a rock musician and songwriter. He was born on the outskirts of Kingston, Ontario. The lead vocalist for The Tragically Hip, Downie, released six records. A much-loved band, The Tragically Hip has many adoring fans who enjoyed Downie’s songs about living in Canada and his off-the-wall stage performances.
In 2001, Downie published his first book of poetry. He also released several top-selling albums, including “In Between Revolutionaries,” “Road Apples,” and “In Violet Light”.
Downie was active in many environmental movements, including concerns over water rights. Supporting the prevention of burning tires for fuel, Downie was an active member of Lake Ontario Waterkeepers. He was also involved with the Swim Drink Fish Music Club, uniting environmentalists and artists to raise money for water rights in Canada.
Tragedy Strikes the Tragically Hip
In 2012, the Tragically Hip played at the Great Moon Gathering, an organization that focuses on Cree education of youth in today’s world.
Downie was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour in 2016. He finished his tour with the Tragically Hip that same summer. The band’s final sold-out concert took place at Rogers Centre in Kingston. It was broadcast live on TV and radio stations.
In 2017, Downie spoke out for Canada’s indigenous people, at an assembly on Parliament Hill. He also set up a fund to raise money in support of the First Nations who suffered in the Canadian residential schools. Downie was honoured with an eagle’s feather at a First Nations Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec for his contributions towards supporting the First Nations of Canada.
Downie was also appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to music and for his strong support of environmental and social issues in Canada.
On October 17, 2017, Downie lost his battle with cancer at the young age of 53 years old. He will remain a Canadian legend for being one of the top musicians and environmentalists of Canada.
9. Stompin Tom Conners (1936 – 2013)
The top ten list of famous Canadian musicians could not be complete without mentioning the very talented country and folk guitarist, and Canadian singer-songwriter, Charles Thomas Conners aka “Stompin Tom Conners.” Stomping his boot heel to the beat of the music earned Conne”s his nickname as “Stompin Tom.”
After receiving several complaints about damaged stage floors with his boot-stomping, Conners began bringing a piece of wood to place under his feet so he could stomp even louder without damaging the stage floors. His “Stompin” board became a trademark for Conners. After stomping a hole through the plywood, he’d throw it to a lucky member of the crowd and laugh about the poor quality of the local lumber stores.
Dedicating his singing career to writing songs about being a native to Canada, Conners has composed over 300 humorous, toe-tapping Canadian heritage songs. Sure to put a smile on anyone’s face that listens to them, Conner’s has also released over 4 dozen records. Selling over 4 million copies. Now, that’s a lot of records!
Some of Conner’s signature songs include “Bud the Spud,” “Sudbury Saturday Night” and “The Hockey Song.” Played at many National Hockey League games over the years, including each Toronto Maple Leaf Home game, “The Hockey Song” is still a favourite Stompin Tom song among many Canadians.
Stompin Tom Conners played a huge role in the evolution of Canadian history with many of his songs referencing historical events in Canada, such as, “The Bridge Came Tumblin’ Down,” “Fire in the Mine” and “Big Joe Mufferaw.”
10. Bryan Adams ( 1959 – )
And last, but not least on the list of top ten Canadian musicians is Bryan Adams, a guitarist, singer-songwriter, and Canadian record producer. He was a heart-throb to many women and teenagers in the 80s and 90s. Adams has sold over 100 million albums around the world. Some of Adam’s all-time hits include “Summer of 69,” “Cuts Like a Knife,” and “Heaven.”
Adams participated in many charity concerts to raise money and awareness for several causes, including, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, earthquake relief, Canadian Red Cross and the Covid-19 Pandemic research, among others.
Adams is also an animal activist who raises money for the cause through many benefit concerts. His work as a talented musician and his dedication to charitable organizations has made him an incredible asset to the history of Canada.
There are so many great musicians in Canada. Many of them have contributed to forming the foundation of Canada through their incredible accomplishments towards the music and culture of Canada. It was hard to stop at just ten musicians. Tell me, who is your favourite Canadian musician?