The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) has announced its first inductee for 2023 – celebrated Celtic fusion singer-songwriter Loreena McKennitt. Her masterful songwriting, ethereal soprano voice, and imaginative arrangements, that combine her passion for traditional Celtic music with global music influences, have forged her own distinctive genre of “eclectic Celtic.”
The CSHF will honour McKennitt on Wednesday, March 8, 2023 – International Women’s Day – at The Opera House in Toronto, to celebrate her esteemed catalogue, which spans nearly four decades. The induction presentation will be one of the highlights of the Women in Music Canada Honours event. The inaugural program celebrates and supports female Canadian innovators and creators who’ve had outstanding success in their field.
“Loreena is a musical enigma whose songs are seamlessly timeless, yet current; rooted in tradition, yet inventive. She’s a storyteller who can weave through eras and cultures, and transcend boundaries,” says Stan Meissner, Board Chairman of the CSHF. “Loreena has achieved global success on her own terms, and has remained steadfast as an independent recording artist, which is both admirable and deserving of recognition.”
“I’m deeply honoured to be receiving this recognition,” says McKennitt. “For 25 years this organization has shown a deep devotion to celebrating and promoting Canadian songwriters, and this country’s rich musical legacy. We’ve all been enriched by their work. I feel so privileged to have my name added to their list of distinguished Canadian songwriters.”
Loreena McKennitt relocated from Winnipeg to Stratford, Ontario, in 1981, and began her career as an actor, singer, and composer for the Stratford Festival, appearing in The Tempest (1982) and The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1984). In 1985, she learned to play the troubadour harp, and embarked on a solo music career, founding her Quinlan Road label and financing her Irish-based debut recording, Elemental, by busking in Toronto.
Early on, McKennitt decided to focus her songwriting on her passion, Celtic music, rather than autobiographical songwriting. Her original songs and skilful musical arrangements of time-honoured English and Irish poems, such as Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott and W.B. Yeats’s Stolen Child, were part world music, folk-roots, and Celtic Wave, infused with a classical finesse.
After forging a distribution deal with Warner Music Canada, she won her first JUNO Award in 1992 for the multi-platinum album The Visit, and her second JUNO win for Best Roots Album came in 1995 for for The Mask and Mirror, exploring Celtic connections to both Spanish and Arabic music. She’s garnered a total of 11 JUNO nominations, including three for Best Female Vocalist, and Artist of the Year in 2007.
She followed this with The Book of Secrets and its JUNO-nominated single “The Mummers’ Dance,” its chorus borrowed from a traditional Oxfordshire song. The album became her highest-charting effort, at No. 3 on Billboard, and sold more than four million copies worldwide, of which over two million were in the U.S. alone. Her song earned a BMI Award, and is now a SOCAN Classic.
The album featured McKennitt’s inventive fusion treatments as a multi-instrumentalist, combining keyboards, harp, and acoustic and electric guitars with global-music instruments (bodhran, bouzouki, kanoun, oud, tabla, etc.) and early-music instruments (hurdy gurdy, viola de gamba, shawm). Her subsequent albums An Ancient Muse and Troubadours on the Rhine both earned Grammy Award nominations.
McKennitt has sold more than 14 million records worldwide. Available in more than 40 countries, her albums have garnered critical international acclaim, and Gold, Platinum, and multi-Platinum awards in 15 countries across four continents, including Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Spain, Italy, Turkiye, and Greece.
She’s also composed music for a wide range of films. Her first screen credits include the National Film Board of Canada’s Women and Spirituality series (1989 – 1993) and Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Léolo (1992). McKennitt contributed both music and narration for Disney’s The Santa Clause (1994) and Tinker Bell (2008).
In 2021 McKennitt marked the 30-year anniversary of her ground-breaking album The Visit by releasing a special Definitive Edition package including archival materials. She recently wrapped her Under a Winter’s Moon tour, and released a new album of the same title, featuring carols and readings by Indigenous actor Tom Jackson, Gemini award-winning actor Cedric Smith, and Ojibway artist and flautist Jeffrey “Red” George.
Following her induction presentation in Toronto, a permanent exhibit will be dedicated to Loreena at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame at the National Music Centre in Calgary. This year the CSHF will mark its 25th anniversary of celebrating Canada’s greatest songwriters and inductees.