Cape Breton is well known for its traditional music and those who perform it. You don’t even need to hear the last name to know who Natalie. Ashley or Rita is. While I have been fortunate to perform with these great artists as an adult, I didn’t hear our own music in my home or any of the homes of my friends when I was younger. I was into the American popular music that I listened to on my Sony six-transistor radio late at night.
Many of my childhood friends (Including Sam Moon) played in bands but not me. I wanted to be an actor. After doing dozens of plays in college, I auditioned for my first paying acting gig in 1972. Leon Dubinsky (Writer of Rise Again)and Frank Mendleson had created Theatre On the Island, a Cape Breton based Theatre Company.
My audition with Leon was going pretty well until he asked me if I had any talent other than acting. I wanted this job so badly that I blurted out, “Yes, I also sing and dance.” I still don’t know where that came from since I had never done either!
Within a few weeks I was the MC of a variety show touring around Cape Breton where I was also required to sing two songs. The advice I got from one of the musicians I confided in about my zero singing experience was to act like I could sing. Cool. I could do that. I had a deep voice and could act like I was Kris Kristofferson.
Then CBC Radio decided to record the show. You know how your voice sounds so unlike you the first time you hear it on tape? Well, I was in the CBC control room and heard one of the songs being played back. I really liked it and actually asked who was singing before I realized it was ME! Holy smokes! Talk about a game changer. That was the moment I knew I was a singer not an actor.
In future blogs I will be writing about how I got involved with Cape Breton’s wonderful traditional music and its practitioners.