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Gordon Lightfoot

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Gordon Lightfoot
Lightfoot performing at Interlochen, Michigan, in 2009
Lightfoot performing at Interlochen, Michigan, in 2009
Background information
Birth nameGordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr.
Born(1938-11-17)November 17, 1938
Orillia, Ontario, Canada
DiedMay 1, 2023(2023-05-01) (aged 84)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Singer-songwriter
  • guitarist
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
  • percussion
Years active1958–2023
Formerly ofThe Two Tones

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. CC OOnt (November 17, 1938 – May 1, 2023) was a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music. He is credited with helping to define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s.[1] He has been referred to as Canada's greatest songwriter,[2] having several gold and multi-platinum albums[3] and songs covered by some of the world's most renowned musical artists.[4] Lightfoot's biographer Nicholas Jennings said, "His name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness."[5]

Lightfoot's songs, including "For Lovin' Me", "Early Morning Rain", "Steel Rail Blues", "Ribbon of Darkness"—a number one hit on the U.S. country chart[6] with Marty Robbins's cover in 1965—and "Black Day in July", about the 1967 Detroit riot, brought him wide recognition in the 1960s. Canadian chart success with his own recordings began in 1962 with the No. 3 hit "(Remember Me) I'm the One", followed by recognition and charting abroad in the 1970s. He topped the US Hot 100 or Adult Contemporary (AC) chart with the hits "If You Could Read My Mind" (1970), "Sundown" (1974); "Carefree Highway" (1974), "Rainy Day People" (1975), and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (1976), and had many other hits that appeared in the top 40.[7]

Robbie Robertson of the Band described Lightfoot as "a national treasure".[8] Bob Dylan, also a Lightfoot fan, called him one of his favourite songwriters and said, "I can't think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don't like. Every time I hear a song of his, it's like I wish it would last forever.... ".[9] Lightfoot was a featured musical performer at the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta and has received numerous honours and awards.

Early life, family and education[edit]

Lightfoot was born in Orillia, Ontario, on November 17, 1938,[10][11] to Jessie Vick Trill Lightfoot and Gordon Lightfoot Sr.,[10] who owned a local dry cleaning business.[12] He was of Scottish descent.[13] He had an older sister, Beverley (1935–2017).[14] His mother recognized Lightfoot's musical talent early on and schooled him to become a successful child performer. He first performed publicly in grade four, singing the Irish-American lullaby "Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral", which was broadcast over his school's public address system[12] during a parents' day event.[15]

As a youth, he sang in the choir of Orillia's St. Paul's United Church under the direction of choirmaster Ray Williams. According to Lightfoot, Williams taught him how to sing with emotion and how to have confidence in his voice.[16] Lightfoot was a boy soprano; he appeared periodically on local Orillia radio, performed in local operettas and oratorios, and gained exposure through various Kiwanis music festivals. At the age of twelve, after winning a competition for boys whose voices had not yet changed, he made his first appearance at Massey Hall in Toronto, a venue he would ultimately play over 170 more times throughout his career.[17]

As a teenager, Lightfoot learned piano and taught himself to play drums and percussion. He held concerts in Muskoka, a resort area north of Orillia, singing "for a couple of beers".[18] Lightfoot performed extensively throughout high school, Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute (ODCVI), and taught himself to play folk guitar. A formative influence on his music at this time was 19th-century master American songwriter Stephen Foster.[19] He was also an accomplished high school track-and-field competitor, setting school records for shot-put and pole vault.[20]

Lightfoot moved to Los Angeles in 1958 to study jazz composition and orchestration for two years at Westlake College of Music.[21]



To support himself while in California, Lightfoot sang on demonstration records and wrote, arranged, and produced commercial jingles. Among his influences was the folk music of Pete Seeger, Bob Gibson, Ian & Sylvia Tyson, and The Weavers.[22] He lived in Los Angeles for a time, but he missed Toronto and returned there in 1960,[23] living in Canada thereafter, though he did much work in the United States, under an H-1B visa.[24]

After his return to Canada, Lightfoot performed with the Singin' Swingin' Eight, a group featured on CBC TV's Country Hoedown, and with the Gino Silvi Singers. He soon became known at Toronto folk music-oriented coffee houses.[25][26] In 1961, Lightfoot released two singles, both recorded at RCA in Nashville and produced by Chet Atkins,[27] that were local hits in Toronto and received some airplay elsewhere in Canada and the northeastern United States. "(Remember Me) I'm the One" reached No. 3 on CHUM radio in Toronto in July 1962 and was a top 20 hit on Montreal's CKGM, then a very influential Canadian Top 40 radio station.[28] The follow-up single was "Negotiations"/"It's Too Late, He Wins"; it reached No. 27 on CHUM in December. He sang with Terry Whelan in a duo called the Two-Tones/Two-Timers. They recorded a live album that was released in 1962 called Two-Tones at the Village Corner (1962, Chateau CLP-1012).[29]

In 1963, Lightfoot travelled in Europe and for one year in the UK he hosted BBC TV's Country and Western Show,[30] returning to Canada in 1964. He appeared at the Mariposa Folk Festival and began to develop a reputation as a songwriter. Ian and Sylvia Tyson recorded "Early Mornin' Rain" and "For Lovin' Me"; a year later both songs were recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary; other performers who recorded one or both of these songs included Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Chad & Jeremy, George Hamilton IV, the Clancy Brothers, and the Johnny Mann Singers. Established recording artists such as Marty Robbins ("Ribbon of Darkness"),[31] Judy Collins ("Early Morning Rain"), Richie Havens and Spyder Turner ("I Can't Make It Anymore"), and the Kingston Trio ("Early Morning Rain") all achieved some chart success with Lightfoot's material.


Lightfoot, right, at a music industry function in Toronto in 1965

In 1965, Lightfoot signed a management contract with Albert Grossman,[32] who also represented many prominent American folk performers, and signed a recording contract with United Artists who released his version of "I'm Not Sayin'" as a single. Appearances at the Newport Folk Festival, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and New York's Town Hall increased his following and bolstered his reputation. 1966 marked the release of his debut album Lightfoot!, which brought him greater exposure as both a singer and a songwriter. The album featured many now-famous songs, including "For Lovin' Me", "Early Mornin' Rain", "Steel Rail Blues", and "Ribbon of Darkness". On the strength of the Lightfoot! album, which blended Canadian and universal themes, Lightfoot became one of the first Canadian singers to achieve definitive home-grown stardom without having moved permanently to the United States to develop it. Lightfoot also recorded in the Nashville, Tennessee area at Forest Hills Music Studio ("Bradley's Barn") run by Owen Bradley and his son Jerry during the 1960s.[33]

To kick off Canada's Centennial year, the CBC commissioned Lightfoot to write the "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" for a special broadcast on January 1, 1967. Between 1966 and 1969, Lightfoot recorded four additional albums for United Artists: The Way I Feel (1967), Did She Mention My Name? (1968), Back Here on Earth (1968), and the live recording Sunday Concert (1969), and consistently placed singles in the Canadian top 40, including "Go-Go Round", "Spin, Spin", and "The Way I Feel". His biggest hit of the era was a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", which peaked at No. 3 on the Canadian charts in December 1965. Did She Mention My Name?, released in January 1968, featured "Black Day in July", about the 1967 Detroit riot. Weeks later, upon the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, radio stations in 30 states pulled the song for "fanning the flames", even though the song was a plea for racial harmony. Lightfoot stated at the time radio station owners cared more about playing songs "that make people happy" and not those "that make people think." Unhappy at a lack of support from United Artists, he defected to Warner Bros. Records, scoring his first major international hit in early 1971 with "If You Could Read My Mind".

Lightfoot's albums from this time were well received abroad but did not produce any hit singles. Outside of Canada, he remained better known as a songwriter than as a performer, yet he was to find commercial success there before he was fully appreciated in his own country.[34][35]

His success as a live performer continued to grow throughout the late 1960s. He embarked on his first Canadian national tour in 1967, and also performed in New York City. Between 1967 and 1974, Lightfoot toured Europe and was well-received on two tours of Australia.

UA continued to release "Best of" album compilations in the 1970s even after Lightfoot became a success at Warner Bros./Reprise.


Lightfoot signed to Warner Bros./Reprise in 1970 and scored a major hit in the United States with "If You Could Read My Mind", which sold over one million copies by early 1971 and was awarded a gold disc.[36] The song had originally appeared on the poorly-selling 1970 album Sit Down Young Stranger. After the song's success, the album was reissued under the new title If You Could Read My Mind; it reached No. 5 nationally and represented a major turning point in Lightfoot's career.[30] The album also featured a second recorded version of "Me and Bobby McGee", as well as "The Pony Man", "Your Love's Return (Song for Stephen Foster)", and "Minstrel of the Dawn".

Over the next seven years, he recorded a series of successful albums that established him as a singer-songwriter:

  • Summer Side of Life (1971), with songs "Ten Degrees and Getting Colder", "Miguel", "Cabaret", "Nous Vivons Ensemble", and the title track
  • Don Quixote (1972), with "Beautiful", "Looking at the Rain", "Christian Island (Georgian Bay)", and the title track
  • Old Dan's Records (1972), with the title track, the two-sided single "That Same Old Obsession"/"You Are What I Am", and the songs "It's Worth Believin'" and "Can't Depend on Love"
  • Sundown (1974). Besides the title track, it includes "Carefree Highway", "Seven Island Suite", "The Watchman's Gone", "High and Dry", "Circle of Steel", and "Too Late for Prayin'"
  • Cold on the Shoulder (1975). Along with title track are songs "Bend in the Water", "The Soul Is the Rock", "Rainbow Trout", "All the Lovely Ladies" and the hit "Rainy Day People"
  • A double compilation LP Gord's Gold (in 1975) containing nine new versions of his most popular songs from the United Artists era[37]
  • Summertime Dream (1976), along with "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" are the songs "I'm Not Supposed to Care", "Race Among the Ruins", "Spanish Moss", "Never Too Close", and the title track
  • Endless Wire (1978) with "Daylight Katy", "If Children Had Wings", "Sweet Guinevere", a new version of "The Circle Is Small" from Back Here on Earth, and the title track

During the 1970s, Lightfoot's songs covered a wide range of subjects, including "Don Quixote", about Cervantes' famous literary character, "Ode to Big Blue", about the widespread killing of whales, "Beautiful", about the simple joys of love, "Carefree Highway", about the freedom of the open road, "Protocol", about the futility of war, and "Alberta Bound", which was inspired by a lonely teenaged girl named Grace he met on a bus while travelling to Calgary in 1971.[citation needed]

In 1972, Lightfoot contracted Bell's palsy, a condition that left his face partially paralyzed for a time. The affliction curtailed his touring schedule but Lightfoot nevertheless continued to deliver major hits: in June 1974 his classic single "Sundown" from the album Sundown went to No.1 on the American and Canadian charts. It would be his only number one hit in the United States. He performed it twice on NBC's The Midnight Special series. "Carefree Highway" (about Arizona State Route 74 in Phoenix, Arizona) was the follow-up single from the same album. It charted in the Top 10 in both countries.[38] Lightfoot wrote it after travelling from Flagstaff, Arizona on Interstate 17 to Phoenix.

In late November 1975, Lightfoot read a Newsweek magazine article[39] about the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on November 10, 1975, on Lake Superior during a severe storm with the loss of all 29 crew members. The lyrics in his song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", released the following year, were substantially based on facts in the article. It reached number two on the United States Billboard chart and was a number one hit in Canada. Lightfoot appeared at several 25th anniversary memorial services of the sinking, and stayed in personal contact with the family members of the men who perished in the Edmund Fitzgerald.[40]

In 1978, Lightfoot had another top 40 hit on the United States Hot 100, a re-recorded version of "The Circle Is Small (I Can See It in Your Eyes)," which reached number 33.

1980s and 1990s[edit]

During the 1980s and the 1990s, Lightfoot recorded six more original albums and a compilation for Warner Bros./Reprise: Dream Street Rose (1980), Shadows (1982), Salute (1983), East of Midnight (1986), another compilation Gord's Gold Volume II (1988), Waiting for You (1993), and A Painter Passing Through (1998).

The album Dream Street Rose has the folk-pop sound that Lightfoot established during the previous decade. In addition to the title song, it includes songs such as "Ghosts of Cape Horn" and "On the High Seas". It also includes the Leroy Van Dyke 1950s composition "The Auctioneer", a bluegrass-like number that was a concert staple for Lightfoot from the mid-1960s to the 1980s. The album Shadows represents a departure from the acoustic sound of his guitar playing in the 1970s and introduces an adult-contemporary sound. Songs like "Shadows" and "Thank You for the Promises" contain an underlying sadness and resignation. The 1982 American released single "Baby Step Back" marked his last time in the top 50 in that country. The 1983 album Salute produced no hit singles; the 1986 East of Midnight album had several Adult Contemporary songs like "A Passing Ship", "Morning Glory", and "I'll Tag Along" (East of Midnight). A single from East of Midnight, "Anything for Love", made the 1986 Billboard Country and Western chart.[41]

In April 1987, Lightfoot filed a lawsuit against composer Michael Masser, claiming that Masser's melody for the song "The Greatest Love of All", versions of which were recorded and released by George Benson in 1977 and Whitney Houston in 1985, had stolen 24 bars from Lightfoot's 1971 hit song "If You Could Read My Mind". The transitional section that begins "I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow" of the Masser song has the same melody as "I never thought I could feel this way and I got to say that I just don't get it; I don't know where we went wrong but the feeling's gone and I just can't get it back" of Lightfoot's song. Lightfoot later stated that he did not want people thinking that he had stolen his melody from Masser.[42] The case was settled out of court and Masser issued a public apology.[43] Lightfoot rounded out the decade with his follow-up compilation Gord's Gold Volume II, in late 1988, which contained re-recorded versions of his most popular songs, including a re-make of the 1970 song "The Pony Man". The original had been brisk in pace, acoustic, and about three minutes long. This new version was slower, clocking in at four minutes plus. Lightfoot performed with Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Tyson at the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

During the 1990s, Lightfoot returned to his acoustic roots and recorded two albums. Waiting for You (1993) includes songs such as "Restless", "Wild Strawberries", and Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells". 1998's A Painter Passing Through reintroduced a sound more reminiscent of his early recordings,[44] with songs like "Much to My Surprise", "Red Velvet", "Drifters", and "I Used to Be a Country Singer". Throughout the decade, Lightfoot played about 50 concerts a year.[45] In 1999 Rhino Records released Songbook, a four-CD boxed set of Lightfoot recordings with rare and unreleased tracks from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s plus a small hardback booklet for his fans that described how he created his songs and gave facts about his career.


In April 2000, Lightfoot taped a live concert in Reno, Nevada; this one-hour show was broadcast by CBC in October, and as a PBS special across the United States. PBS stations offered a videotape of the concert as a pledge gift, and a tape and DVD were released in 2001 in Europe and North America. This was the first Lightfoot concert video released. In April 2001, Lightfoot performed at the Tin Pan South Legends concert at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, closing the show. In May, he performed "Ring Them Bells" at Massey Hall in honour of Bob Dylan's 60th birthday.

By January 2002, Lightfoot had written 30 new songs for his next studio album. He recorded guitar and vocal demos of some of these new songs. In September, before the second concert of a two-night stand in Orillia, Lightfoot suffered severe stomach pain and was airlifted to McMaster University Medical Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. He underwent emergency vascular surgery for a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm,[46] and he remained in serious condition in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Lightfoot endured a six-week coma and a tracheotomy, and he underwent four surgical operations.[47] All of his remaining 2002 concert dates were cancelled. More than three months after being taken to the McMaster Medical Centre, Lightfoot was released in December to continue his recovery at home.

In 2003, Lightfoot underwent follow-up surgery to continue the treatment of his abdominal condition. In November he signed a new recording contract with Linus Entertainment and began rehearsing with his band for the first time since his illness. Also in 2003, Borealis Records, a label related to Linus Entertainment, released Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot. On this album, various artists, including The Cowboy Junkies, Bruce Cockburn, Jesse Winchester, Maria Muldaur, and The Tragically Hip interpreted Lightfoot's songs. The final track on the album, "Lightfoot", was the only song not previously released by Lightfoot. It was composed and performed by Aengus Finnan.

In January 2004, Lightfoot completed work on his album Harmony, which he had mostly recorded prior to his illness. The album was released on his new home label of Linus Records on May 11 of that year. It was his 20th original album and included a single and new video for "Inspiration Lady". Other songs on the album are "Clouds of Loneliness", "Sometimes I Wish", "Flyin' Blind", and "No Mistake About It". The album also contains the upbeat yet reflective track called "End of All Time" In July 2004, he made a surprise comeback performance, his first since falling ill, at Mariposa in Orillia, performing "I'll Tag Along" solo. In August he performed a five-song solo set in Peterborough, Ontario, at a flood relief benefit. In November he made his long-awaited return to the concert stage with two sold-out benefit shows in Hamilton, Ontario. Lightfoot returned to the music business with his new album selling well and an appearance on Canadian Idol, where the six top contestants each performed a song of his, culminating in a group performance – on their own instruments – of his Canadian Railroad Trilogy. In 2005, he made a low-key tour called the Better Late Than Never Tour.

On September 14, 2006, while in the middle of a performance, Lightfoot suffered a minor stroke that temporarily left him without the use of the middle and ring fingers on his right hand.[48] He returned to performing nine days later and for a brief time used a substitute guitarist for more difficult guitar work.[49][50] Full recovery took longer, "I fought my way back in seven or eight months".[51] In 2007, Lightfoot had full use of his right hand and played all of the guitar parts in concert as he originally wrote them.[52] While a tour was being planned for 2008, Lightfoot's manager, Barry Harvey, died at age 56 on December 4, 2007. In late 2009, Lightfoot undertook a 26-city tour.

2010s and final work[edit]

In February 2010, Lightfoot was the victim of a death hoax originating from Twitter, when then-CTV journalist David Akin posted on Twitter and Facebook that Lightfoot had died.[53] Lightfoot was at a dental appointment at the time the rumours spread and found out when listening to the radio on his drive home.[54] Lightfoot dispelled those rumours by phoning Charles Adler of CJOB, the DJ and radio station he heard reporting his demise, and did an interview expressing that he was alive and well.[55] In 2012, Lightfoot continued to tour, telling a sold-out crowd June 15 at Ottawa's National Arts Centre that he still performs sixty times a year. Lightfoot played two shows at the NAC after his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Lightfoot performed at the 100th Grey Cup in November 2012, performing "Canadian Railroad Trilogy", and was extremely well received.[56] Lightfoot's first tour of the United Kingdom in 35 years was announced in 2015, with 11 dates across England, Ireland and Scotland between May 18, 2016, and June 1, 2016.[57] According to his website, 2017 tour dates include the United States and Canada. In a 2016 interview with The Canadian Press Lightfoot said: "At this age, my challenge is doing the best show I can ... I'm very much improved from where I was and the seriousness with which I take it."[58]

Lightfoot played at Canada's 150th birthday celebration on Parliament Hill, July 1, 2017, introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Prime Minister mentioned that Lightfoot had played the same stage exactly 50 years earlier, during Canada's 100th birthday.[59] His 2017 and 2018 tours included dozens of dates in Canada and the United States.[60][61] Lightfoot's 2019 tour was interrupted when he was injured while working out in a gym. In March 2020 his concert schedule was interrupted by governmental restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lightfoot had said in 2016 that he was not planning to return to songwriting later in life as he had concluded it was "such an isolating thing" for him earlier in his career, affecting his family life.[58] However, in 2020 Lightfoot announced plans for a new studio album for the first time in nearly two decades.[62] On March 20, 2020, Lightfoot released Solo without the accompaniment of other musicians. It was his 21st studio album, released more than 54 years after his debut album. It was released by Warner Music Canada, marking Lightfoot's return to Warner Music Group. Lightfoot played his final concert on October 30, 2022, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.[63]

Two weeks after his death, it was announced that his 2016 concert performance at Royal Albert Hall would be released in July 2023 as the live album At Royal Albert Hall.[64]


Lightfoot's sound, both in the studio and on tour, was centred on Lightfoot's baritone voice and folk-based twelve-string acoustic guitar.[65] From 1965 to 1970, lead guitarist Red Shea was an important supporting player, with bassists Paul Wideman and John Stockfish filling out the arrangements.

Performing in Toronto, 2008, playing his twelve-string guitar

In 1968 bassist Rick Haynes joined the band, and lead guitarist Terry Clements joined the following year. Shea left the touring band in 1970, but continued to record with Lightfoot until 1975. He hosted his own Canadian variety show, played with Ian Tyson, and became band leader for Tommy Hunter's TV show in the 1980s on CBC. Shea played on most of Lightfoot's early hits. Haynes and Clements remained with Lightfoot and composed the core of his band.

In 1975, Pee Wee Charles added pedal steel guitar to Lightfoot's songs. Drummer Barry Keane joined the following year and in 1981, keyboardist Mike Heffernan completed the ensemble. This five-piece backup band remained intact until 1987, when Charles left the band to operate a radio station in Southern Ontario.

Three members of Lightfoot's band died over the years: Red Shea in June 2008 from pancreatic cancer, Clements at 63 on February 20, 2011, following a stroke,[66] and original bassist John Stockfish from natural causes on August 20, 2012, at 69.[67]

Haynes, Keane, and Heffernan continued to tour and record with Lightfoot, adding guitarist Carter Lancaster from Hamilton, Ontario, in 2011; a "great player", according to Lightfoot.[68]

Personal life and death[edit]

Lightfoot was married three times. His first marriage in April 1963 was to a Swedish woman, Brita Ingegerd Olaisson, with whom he had two children, Fred and Ingrid. They divorced in 1973, the marriage ending in part because of his infidelity. Lightfoot acknowledged that his musical touring and the fact that he found fidelity difficult in a long-distance relationship contributed to the failure of at least two relationships.

The song "If You Could Read My Mind" was written in reflection upon his disintegrating marriage. At the request of his daughter, Ingrid, he performed the lyrics with a slight change: the line "I'm just trying to understand the feelings that you lack" is altered to "I'm just trying to understand the feelings that we lack." He said in an interview that the difficulty with writing songs inspired by personal stories is that there is not always the emotional distance and clarity to make lyrical improvements such as the one his daughter suggested.

Lightfoot was single for 16 years and had two other children from relationships between his first and second marriages: Gaylen McGee and Eric Lightfoot.[69]

In the early 1970s, Lightfoot was involved with Cathy Smith; their volatile relationship inspired his songs "Sundown" and "Rainy Day People" among others. "Cathy was a great lady," Lightfoot told The Globe and Mail after her death. "Men were drawn to her, and she used to make me jealous. But I don't have a bad thing to say about her." Smith later became notorious as the person who injected John Belushi with a fatal speedball.[70]

In 1989, he married Elizabeth Moon. They had two children: Miles and Meredith.[71] They divorced in 2011 after a separation that Lightfoot said had lasted nine years.

Lightfoot wed for a third time on December 19, 2014, at Rosedale United Church to Kim Hasse.[72]

To stay in shape to meet the demands of touring and public performing, Lightfoot worked out in a gym six days per week, but declared in 2012 that he was "fully prepared to go whenever I'm taken." He calmly stated, "I've been almost dead a couple times, once almost for real ... I have more incentive to continue now because I feel I'm on borrowed time, in terms of age."[73]

Lightfoot's band members displayed loyalty to him, as both musicians and friends, recording and performing with him for as long as 45 years.[74][75]

Lightfoot was a long-time resident of Toronto having settled in the Rosedale neighbourhood in the 1970s, which once hosted an infamous after-party following a Maple Leaf Gardens date on Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour.[76] In 1999, he purchased his final home in the Bridle Path neighbourhood,[77] where he would eventually live across the street from fellow musician Drake who purchased property in the mid-2010s,[78] and at various times down the street from both Mick Jagger and Prince.[79]

Lightfoot was a lifelong fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and was made an honorary captain of the team for the 1991–92 season.[80]

In mid-April 2023, Lightfoot's declining health caused him to cancel the remainder of his 2023 tour.[81] Lightfoot died of natural causes at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto on May 1, 2023, at the age of 84.[82]

The Mariners' Church in Detroit (the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral" mentioned in "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald") honored Lightfoot the day after his death by ringing its bell a total of 30 times, 29 for each of the crewmen lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the final time for Lightfoot himself.[83] Additionally, the Split Rock Lighthouse, which overlooks Lake Superior in Minnesota, shone its light in honor of Lightfoot on May 3.[84]

In the days after his death, a series of tributes took place in his hometown of Orillia, one of them previously planned. On May 6, the local opera house hosted Leisa Way & the Wayward Wind Band, a previously planned show that paid tribute to Lightfoot that became a memorial show of sorts. It sold out after his death.[85] A day later, a public visitation was held at St. Paul's United Church that drew more than 2,400 people.[86] On May 8, 2023, a private funeral was held for Lightfoot at St. Paul's United Church.[87] His body was later cremated, and his ashes were buried next to his parents at St. Andrew's and St. James' Cemetery in Orillia.[88]

Alexander Carpenter, professor of musicology at the University of Alberta, noted the number of tributes to Lightfoot in the media that held him as "quintessentially Canadian" and questioned whether this nationalist, nostalgic view [blurred] "the reality that Lightfoot was a musician who had a much wider influence on the popular music scene of the 1970s, well beyond Canada’s borders".[89] Carpenter contended that Lightfoot both romanticized Canadian history and looked more deeply into the country's past – an aspect of his music that has been "largely lost in the effusive eulogies in the media". Lightfoot's gentle, sentimental delivery style was noted by Carpenter as evoking a nostalgia, but this was not necessarily a "compelling or accurate portrait of Canada", with the article concluding: "Simply casting Lightfoot as an exemplar of Canadian-ness overshadows Lightfoot's legacy. He was a songsmith and a musician who toiled for his entire career – spanning nearly six decades – to bring words and music together in meaningful and enduring ways."[89]

A tribute concert took place at Massey Hall on May 23, 2024, featuring performances of Lightfoot songs, performed by Gord’s own backing band and Blue Rodeo, City and Colour, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, Julian Taylor, Kathleen Edwards, Murray McLauchlan, Serena Ryder, Tom Wilson, Allison Russell, Burton Cummings, Tom Cochrane, Aysanabee, William Prince, Sylvia Tyson and The Good Brothers.[90]

Honours and awards[edit]

Lightfoot's star on Canada's Walk of Fame

As an individual, apart from various awards associated with his albums and singles, Gordon Lightfoot received sixteen Juno Awards—for top folk singer in 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969,[91] 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977, for top male vocalist in 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973, and as composer of the year in 1972 and 1976. He received ASCAP awards for songwriting in 1971, 1974, 1976, and 1977, and was nominated for five Grammy Awards. In 1974 Lightfoot's song "Sundown" was named pop record of the year by the Music Operators of America. In 1980 he was named Canadian male recording artist of the decade, for his work during the 1970s.[30]

Lightfoot was celebrated in song by fellow Canadians The Guess Who on their 1968 album "Wheatfield Soul" with the track "Lightfoot." The opening verse mentions John Stockfish and Red Shea leaving no doubt about the identity of this Lightfoot who "is an artist painting Sistine masterpieces." The track also cleverly interjects titles of some of Gordon's songs in a line of its[92] lyrics, as shown in single quotes. "And as the 'Go-Go (girl went) Round', and our heads were in a spin, I thought about the 'Crossroads', in the 'Early Morning Rain', and 'Rosanna'".

Lightfoot was chosen as the celebrity captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the NHL's 75th anniversary season in 1991–1992.[93]

Lightfoot was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986[30] and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. He was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 1998. In May 2003 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.[30] Lightfoot was a member of the Order of Ontario, the highest honour in the province of Ontario. In 1977, he received the Vanier Award from the Canadian Jaycees. In 2007 Canada Post honoured Lightfoot and three other Canadian music artists (, Paul Anka, Joni Mitchell, and Anne Murray) with postage stamps highlighting their names and images.[94] On June 24, 2012, Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in a New York City ceremony, along with Bob Seger.[4][95][96]

He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Trent University in spring 1979[97] and on June 6, 2015, Lightfoot received an honorary doctorate of music in his hometown of Orillia from Lakehead University.[98]

In November 1997, the Governor General's Performing Arts Award, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts, was bestowed on Lightfoot.[99] Lightfoot was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in May 2003.[100] On February 6, 2012, Lightfoot was presented with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Between 1986 and 1988, Lightfoot's friend Ken Danby (1940–2007), the realist painter, worked on a large (60 × 48 inches) portrait of Lightfoot dressed in the white suit he wore on the cover of the album East of Midnight. The picture is backlit by the sun, creating a visually iconic image of the singer.

On June 16, 2014, Lightfoot was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by SOCAN at the 2014 SOCAN Awards in Toronto.[101]

On October 23, 2015, Lightfoot was honoured with a 4-metre tall bronze sculpture created by Timothy Schmalz in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario.[102] The sculpture, called Golden Leaves—A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, features Lightfoot sitting cross-legged, playing an acoustic guitar underneath an arch of golden maple leaves. Many of the leaves depict scenes from Lightfoot's 1975 greatest hits album, Gord's Gold.

In 2017, Lightfoot rated fifth in the CBC's list of the 25 best Canadian songwriters ever, and musician Ronnie Hawkins called Lightfoot the greatest songwriter in the world.[103] That same year, Penguin Random House Canada published the Gordon Lightfoot biography, Lightfoot, written by journalist Nicholas Jennings and it topped the national bestseller lists. Lightfoot was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.[104]

He was the subject of the 2019 documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.[105]

In 2022, Lightfoot received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[106]


See also[edit]


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External links[edit]