SOCAN is mourning the loss of Cree country singer-songwriter Shane Yellowbird, who has passed away at the age of 42. The cause of death has not been released. Close friends say he had a history of health problems, including epilepsy. Originally from Maskwacis, Alberta (about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton) Yellowbird became an award-winning artist after a speech therapist suggested he start singing to help control a stutter – which led him to a career in music.
The Calgary-based Yellowbird is best known for the song “Pickup Truck,” which won him the Rising Star Award at the Canadian Country Music Awards in 2007, and “Life Is My Calling Name,” which was nominated for a JUNO Award in 2008 for Country Recording of the Year. He also won three Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards in 2007, and “Pickup Truck” was one of the 10 most played country music songs in Canada that year. In 2009, he became one of only three Indigenous artists to ever perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, where he was overjoyed to meet and chat with his hero and fellow stutterer, country superstar Mel Tillis.
Yellowbird is fondly remembered by blues and country artist Crystal Shawanda, who met him in 2008. Shawanda says he was a trailblazer to Indigenous country music singers, and was like a brother to her, always supporting her career. “What he accomplished is huge,” Shawanda said. “No male Indigenous country music artist has yet to do what he has done.”
Louis O’Reilly, who signed Yellowbird to his record label in 2003, and worked with him until 2013, said Yellowbird was “authentic through and through,” and added that he was a “real cowboy” who always stayed humble. “He was grateful for everything he had,” said O’Reilly.
Several Canadian country artists and fellow SOCAN members also paid tribute to Yellowbird. “He had this shy, humble demeanour, yet exuded confidence and star power the minute he got onstage,” Brett Kissel told The Edmonton Journal. “He always believed in me as an artist and songwriter, long before a lot of people. A truly beautiful soul,” wrote Aaron Goodvin on Instagram. Aaron Pritchett said, on social media, “You will be missed by so many, buddy.”
SOCAN extends our sympathy to Yellowbird’s family, friends, and fans.