Cape Breton’s “First Lady of Song” Rita MacNeil died Tuesday night from post-surgery complications, according to a statement from the singer’s family. The iconic singer had been suffering from a recurring infection that had forced her to cancel recent performances. MacNeil, born in Big Pond, Nova Scotia in 1944, was Canada’s top-selling country artist and had recorded 24 albums over her long career, including last year’s Saving Grace. Some of her biggest hits included Flying On Your Own, Reason to Believe and Working Man, which brought her international recognition.
Her music won her three Juno Awards, as well as many East Coast Music Awards and Country Music Awards. MacNeil often sang about the struggles of the working class and overcoming adversity. She wrote about her upbringing and personal struggles in her 1998 autobiography On A Personal Note. The beloved singer was also a Member of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia, as well as five honorary doctorates. Fellow Canadian vocalist Anne Murray expressed her condolences in a statement, saying, “I am deeply saddened by the loss of a dear sweet woman and a gifted singer-songwriter who represented women and her beloved Nova Scotia so eloquently in her songs.”