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 I mean by Natalie, Ashley or Rita. 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.