Throughout history, tragedy, heartbreak, and unfathomable loss are experiences that have inspired artists to write songs. While they start from a personal place, when combined with the zeitgeist when they were written, these songs can resonate with generations long after the songwriter is gone – because of the shared feelings evoked by the words and the music.

“I’ll Never Smile Again” is one such song, inducted into both the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) and American Recording Hall of Fame, and a part of our country’s deep well of treasured compositions.

Flash back to the 1930s. The Great Depression lingers. Unemployment is high. Europe edges closer to World War Two. In Toronto, 23-year-old Ruth Lowe writes a “I’ll Never Smile Again.” The sentimental ballad comes to her following not just one, but two huge losses: the death of her father in 1932, followed by the passing of her husband in 1939.

Lowe had a gift for music. After her father died, she supported the family by selling her songs and performing them. This was the start of the golden age of the Big Band era. Lowe climbed aboard. After hearing her sing in Toronto one night, bandleader Ina Ray Hutton invited her to join her all-female orchestra, full-time. Lowe agreed and hit the road.

After a gig one evening in Chicago, the songwriter had a blind date with song man Harold Cohen. The pair fell in love and soon married. After only one year of matrimony, tragedy struck Lowe for the second time when Cohen unexpectedly passed away.

“Losing the two men she loved in her life, in such a short time, inspired the song,” says Lowe’s son Tom Sandler. “My mom was so heartbroken. She said to my aunt, ‘I’ll never smile again without him,’ and the next day she sits down and quickly writes this haunting song.”

Lowe shared the song with Toronto bandleader Percy Faith. He loved it. With the songwriter’s permission, Faith arranged and recorded a 78 RPM single with his orchestra. Faith first broadcast the song in 1939 to CBC listeners on his regular program Music By Faith.

But Lowe knew she had a hit on her hands beyond Canada. The ambitious songwriter shared the recording and sheet music with bandleader Tommy Dorsey, through his guitar player – who happened to be dating one of Lowe’s girlfriends at the time. The bandleader listened to “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and like Faith, was moved.

Ruth Lowe, First Billboard Chart, I'll Never Smile AgainDorsey arranged a new version of the song with his band, and then brought it to Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers to record. The sentimental song ended up launching Sinatra’s career; it was not only the crooner’s first No.1 Billboard hit, but the first No. 1 record on Billboard’s modern chart, staying atop it for 12 weeks, in 1941.

“With the war raging in Europe, there was a lot of heartbreak going on, and more to come,” says Sandler. “All these women were losing their loves and their husbands to war and then here comes a story of a woman losing her man. The song resonated. I call it a flashpoint in music history: Dorsey, my mom, Sinatra, the war… everything came together. It went through the roof on the charts!”

Like all great songs, more than a half-century later, “I’ll Never Smile Again” still stands the test of time. The composition inspired Frank Davies to create the CSHF. And through the decades, “I’ll Never Smile Again” has been covered by Fats Waller, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Big Joe Williams, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Eddie Arnold, The Platters, Carl Perkins, Cleo Laine, Barry Manilow, and Michael Bublé, among others.

On film, the song has been heard in Good Morning, Vietnam and The Color of Money, and on TV’s The Fugitive, McHale’s Navy, Leave it to Beaver, and the Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, and Lawrence Welk shows.

An impressive legacy for a song written out of heartbreak, by a 23-year-old widow from Toronto.

To learn more about Ruth Lowe’s legacy in song, read the book Until I Smile at You, written by Sandler and Peter Jennings, published in 2020, or visit

Olivia Penalva has watched her latest single, “Love Me,” rack up more than 20 million streams on TikTok, and her pop covers have gone from YouTube to appearing on American Idol and America’s Got Talent, but the Gen Z singer still gets excited by what’s perceived as an older-school achievement.

Olivia Penalva“The biggest thing for me is radio, actually,” she says. “[‘Love Me’] is rising on pop radio, and CHR, which is so crazy. The numbers keep going up the charts. It’s kind of blown my mind.”

The 20-year-old from Vernon, British Colombia, first heard her voice on the radio at age 13, when her whimsical holiday song “Christmas For Two” hit the Top 30. The track was co-written in the fall of 2013 in L.A. with Sony/ATV writer Andrew Allen, who’s also from the Okanagan region of BC, and had scored his own Christmas hit in 2009.

“It was my first trip to L.A. and we didn’t know what we were going to write, but I remember the topic of Christmas came up,” says Penalva. “You know that around Christmas time, not only is radio always looking for more Christmas songs, they’re looking for Canadian artists who have Christmas songs? I remember laughing, thinking, ‘Okay, it’s not even winter, but I’ll get in the spirit’.”

Her openness to other people’s ideas has served her well as she’s paired up with songwriters of various musical backgrounds on a series of one-off singles and EPs. “Love Me” was co-written by Penalva and SOCAN members Emery Taylor (best known for pop and EDM) and Brian Howes (whose many rock credits include smash hits for Daughtry, Puddle of Mudd, and Skillett). Earlier collaborations include “Ferris Wheel” with Brian West (Nelly Furtado, Maroon 5), and “Forgettable” with Josh Cumbee (Madonna, Nick Howard).

“I think I fell in love with co-writing right away”

“I think I fell in love with co-writing right away,” she explains. “Writing by yourself can be kind of intimidating. Being in a room with other writers, talking to them and sharing experiences, but also leaning on each other for ideas, that opened a whole new world for me. It’s always different, and I just have such a good time doing it with other people. It’s such a fun thing.”

Collaborating with writers also helped address a challenge particular to teenage songwriters: how to write deeply about the human condition when you’re just beginning to have your own life experiences? Penalva admits her early songs like “Ferris Wheel” were trying to “work with” her age, but she soon outgrew it.

“I love creating melodies. I also love writing lyrics, but I struggled with knowing what to say for so long because I was so young,” she says. “After a little while I was like, ‘You know, this is fun, but there’s more depth to me.’ The people I was writing with would help me spark those ideas, and through their experiences give me a little guidance. I think that helped me a lot learn about songwriting. And then the last two or three years, getting into adulthood, something opened up in me. I couldn’t stop after that.”

Penalva says that since the start of the pandemic, she’s been writing non-stop, even if trips to L.A. and Nashville have been replaced with Zoom sessions. She’s preparing to release her first full-length album later this year, and has so many tracks to choose from she needs to consult a list of all the songwriters, so as not to leave anyone out.

Some names jump out: Nolan Sipe, whose “Honey, I’m Good” was a Top 10 Billboard hit for Andy Grammar; SOCAN Award winner Daniel Powter (“Bad Day”); Ryan Stewart (Carly Rae Jepsen); Tyler Spry (of One Republic); and Jessica Mitchell, who co-wrote “The Chase” on Celine Dion’s Courage.

As for what it might sound like, the singer doesn’t give much away. “This year, I’ve just kind of embraced everything,” she says. “That’s what so great about pop music nowadays – as long as you’re true to yourself, you can do anything.”

It’s because of a guy everyone called Fern that Louis Cyr, aka Ludwig Wax, was infected by a virus commonly known as rock’n’roll. “His real name is Pierre Ferland,” says Cyr, about the person who made him want to devote his life to shaking his moneymaker, on his knees, onstage, with a Mexican wrestling mask on his head, night after night. Even if it means ending up alone, like all of his peers. In other words, becoming, one day, the singer for Nombre, and one of Québec’s most flamboyant rock singers – half acrobat, half daredevil.

Drogue, Ludwig WaxFlashback to Québec City in the early ‘90s. “Fern DJ’d at Midnight on Tuesday nights,” says Cyr, “and he’d founded an amazing band called Kaopectak alongside Gourmet Délice [bass player for Secrétaires Volantes, Caféïne and Nombre, founder of Blow the Fuse Records, and now business development director for Bonsound]. They did covers of obscure punk and rock songs. Fern was a very calm dude, but on stage… WOAH! We imagine all kinds of things about rock stars, but Fern was truly the first person I saw get onstage, go into a trance, and return to their normal life after. I said to myself, ‘I want to do that, too.’”

In 1996, “in some basement in Cap-Rouge,” he recorded Fun Bomb!, the only album by Demolition, his first band. I show him the album cover from my end of the videoconference call. “Look inside!” says Cyr. “Do you see who produced the album?” And what I can clearly see is that it was produced by Stéphane Papillon, with whom Cyr recently re-united in Drogue, Québec’s new super-group, the other members of which are guitar hero Jean-Sébastien Chouinard, bassist Fred Fortin, and drummer Pierre Fortin (of Gros Mené and Galaxie).

“At the end of my Cégep, the two bands that made it to the finals of Cégeps en spectacle were Papillon’s band and Jean-Philippe’s [Dynamite Roy, guitarist for Secrétaires Volantes and Nombre, and Drogue’s lyricist]. Papillon sang ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and it was the first time I heard a Stooges song.”

Rock “funabulist,” adolescent on the loose, charismatic, and most likely a bit masochistic, as Ludwig Wax, Cyr became a Québécois Iggy Pop, never hesitating to wrap his microphone cord around his neck, to climb everywhere, to catapult himself into the crowd and to do the snake on the floor, a modus operandi he adopted right from the get-go with Demolition, and which would guide him to the third and ultimate Nombre, Vile et fantastique (2009).

“C’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube ou le crépuscule ? /Un jour je me bats, y’en dix autres où je capitule” (“Is it dawn, is it dawn, is it dawn, is it dawn or is it dusk? /One day I fight, there are 10 other where I capitulate”) he howls on “L’aube ou le crepuscule,” the galvanizing first single from Drogue’s first EP.

“I consider Jean-Philippe Roy to be one of the most important songwriters of the punk rock Francophonie,” says Louis about his longtime friend, whom we could qualify as semi-retired from the rock scene. “In that song, Jean-Philippe is wondering if our feet are inside or outside of our casket. How are we supposed to react to aging? We’re all around 50 years old now.”

What’s Cyr’s attitude with regards to his own age? Let’s start with a list of injuries: Ludwig Wax has “kneecaps typical of someone who too often decided to jump really high and land on their knees like a moron,” he says. He has back problems, also linked to his stunts, and a shoulder that makes him miserable since he dislocated it during a Demolition show in Japan during a G8 Summit in 2000.

“My attitude towards aging?” He gives an unequivocal answer. accompanied by a booming laugh: “I decided join Drogue!” (Editor’s note: The line in French is “J’ai décidé de jouer dans Drogue,” a wordplay best translated as, “I decided to play with drugs.”)

Although Stéphane Papillon and Jean-Sébastien Chouinard tricked him into joining the band – he met them thinking he was only going to collaborate on a single song for Papillon’s solo album – the singer, now that he’s got the bug again, is dying to get onstage and “feel the air moving because of the amps.” As hard to believe as it is, a certain virus (more dangerous than the rock one) has meant that the members of Drogue have never all been together in the same room. That also explains why Cyr is the only band member – disguised as a human billboard(!) – featured in the video for De la poudre aux yeux, a tribute to Guy L’Écuyer’s character in André Forcier’s film Au clair de la lune (1983).

“I want to become one with the music when I’m onstage,” says Cyr. “I want to be stabbed by the sound waves of the drums, guitars, and bass. I know not everyone enjoys loud music, but I do. It makes a lot of musical styles more interesting. Whenever I listen to music or sing, I get to a point where I feel it should be even louder.”