Tuesday, February 29, 2000, Toronto Star
by Valerie Hauch, Staff Reporter
If you mention Kiwanis just in passing to Lightfoot...
The way he feels about the Kiwanis festival might stun a
lot of people in the hard-bitten, mercurial music world where Gordon
Lightfoot holds legendary status.
He's internationally acclaimed, this Canadian
singer/songwriter who grew up in Orillia and whose tunes have been
recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Barbara Streisand.
And Lightfoot has no shortage of prestigious awards
garnered over an illustrious career that's produced such enduring hits as
"The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald", "Early Morning
Rain" and "The Way I Feel".
But the two little plaques he won in Toronto at the
Kiwanis Music Festival in 1951 and 1952 - and which he still has - are
They mark a turning point in the life of a young teen
whose voice had not even changed.
In fact, because he was still singing soprano in 1952,
Lightfoot entered the Boys, Unchanged Voices vocal category and came
first. As a result the "very excited" small town choir singer
was among those chosen to perform at Massey Hall on one of two nights
featuring "stars" from the festival.
"It was an experience that stayed with me the rest of
my life", he says over the phone, taking time out from a hectic
schedule preparing for a U.S. tour that will include 50 shows this year.
"I knew it right then . It made me know what it was I
wanted to do with my life.. My voice had not changed and already I was committed
to a life as a singer."
It may have been about 48 years ago, but Lightfoot, 61,
remembers a lot of details about that special night - even the name of the
"wonderful pianist" who accompanied him - Mary Wedlock - and how
it was all arranged by his local United Church choir master, Ray Williams.
Stepping onto the Massey Hall stage - he'd sung solo in
the town choir before, but had never performed in front of such a big
audience - the young Lightfoot was "quite nervous", but soon
"I knew the song so well .. it was easy to do the
song" having practiced three or four times a week for some time
before the competition, he recalls.
The tune, "Who is Sylvia?", was "one of
those classical songs from the 19th century, a lovely song," says
He even remembers eating with his dad and mom (who also
sang and played piano by ear) at the then-legendary, now-gone Savarin
restaurant on Bay St. Later, with his dad at the wheel of the family car,
they drove back to Orillia.
At the previous year's Kiwanis festival, in which he
placed first in the solo class for
boys under 13, and third in boys with unchanged voices, he sang
"Alpine Song" and "Under the Greeenwood Tree".
Since then, he's sang and composed countless melodies
himself, but Lightfoot has never forgotten the songs he sang at the
"I could sing all three of them,", he says,
"I swear, those times are etched.. they're so strong in my
Needless to say, he remains "a fan of the Kiwanis
festival," just like his friend, former touring partner and fellow
Canadian musical superstar, Liona Boyd.
Like Lightfoot, the first musical competition for the
internationally renowned classical
guitarist took place on a Kiwanis stage back in the 1960s.
"I take my hat off to the Kiwanis," she says on
the phone from Los Angeles where she lives. The competition, now in its
57th year, provides a "tremendous service" for young musicians
and performers, says Boyd who played guitar solo and in duet, and won the
first and second prizes when she competed.
She remembers sitting in the corridors of a building
trying to tune her guitar along with other competitors - there was nowhere
else to sit - and feeling very "excited". Although she was
nervous, "once I started playing I was okay," recalls Byd who
got her first guitar at age 14 for Christmas.
The Kiwanis wins were just the beginning for Boyd.
The late Spanish master, Andrés Segovia - considered by
many to be the greatest guitarist and guitar teacher of the last century -
would later predict that she would have a "magnificent career".
Indeed Segovia's words have been prophetic for Boyd, who
has won five Juno awards and has multiple gold and platinum records to her
It's a career that's still very much in high gear for
Boyd, 50, who performed a mind-boggling 62 concerts last year and who
reveals that she's just finished shooting a video for a new CD, Passport
She's also been busy setting up a Web site (www.classicalguitar.com).
But while she lives south of the border, Boyd hasn't
forgotten her roots.
"I'm still a Canadian," she proclaims proudly,
adding that she's actively involved in a
local L.A. group of expatriates called Canadians Abroad.
"Some call it Canadian broads," she allows with
a soft laugh.
And along with this pride in her roots - she was born in
London, England but came with her family to Canada at age 8 and grew up in
Toronto - is a sense of gratitude to the Kiwanis Musical Festival.
It's often the first real competition that young musicians
enter and thereby provides "a great learning experience even if you
don't win," says Boyd.
(submitted by char)