Rising in the East - The JUNO Awards

Across Canada from coast to coast to coast: Atlantic Canada

Back in 1971 chances are pretty slim that, outside the East Coast, Canadian record collections would include many East Coast artists – with the likely exceptions being Anne Murray or April Wine. Possibly Harry Hibbs, the singer and accordion player from Newfoundland and Labrador, or country music icons Hank Snow or Wilf Carter.

That was then.In the ensuing 50 years, East Coast artists have carved out a significant place for themselves in virtually every genre of music.

Take the Celtic music wave that washed across the country in the mid-1980s. It saw the rise of Cape Breton artists like Ashley MacIsaac, The Barra MacNeils, Natalie MacMaster, Mary Jane Lamond, The Rankin Family and a host of others.

Other parts of the East Coast rode the Celtic wave. Up popped fiddlers Cynthia MacLeod and Richard Wood from P.E.I., and, from New Brunswick, Samantha Robichaud. And interest in the genre has never waned: those early artists paving the way for Beòlach, Còig, The Cottars, Slainte Mhath, and others.

Natalie MacMaster. Photo Credit: CARASiPhoto

Another prominent genre in the region: folk/roots hybrids where elements of traditional Irish, Scottish and Acadian folk music mesh with elements of Americana, the blues, rock and even classical music. Atlantic Canada has produced a number of stellar acts that fall under that broad umbrella, notably Figgy Duff and Great Big Sea, The Irish Descendants and the Wonderful Grand Band. From the Acadian musical community came artists like Angèle Arsenault and Édith Butler and groups like 1755, Barachois, Suroît and Vishtèn.

The region’s rich storytelling is often reflected in the music of the folk, roots and country artists here: Bruce Guthro, Gene MacLellan, Matthew Byrne, Old Man Luedecke, Ron Hynes and Stompin’ Tom Connors – to name just a few.

Blues fans can thank Atlantic Canada for the late Dutch Mason, as well as Charlie A’Court, Garrett Mason, John Campbelljohn, Matt Andersen and Matt Minglewood

The region certainly has no shortage of chart-toppers throughout the past 50 years. From Anne Murray, April Wine and Gene MacLellan in the 70s, charted artists grew to include Ashley MacIsaac, Classified, Damhnait Doyle, Haywire, Hey Rosetta!, Joel Plaskett, Ron Hynes, Shaye, Sloan, and The Trews among many, many more.

Who are the up-and-comers? Watch for Andrew Waite, Atlantic String Machine, Keith Mullins, Mo Kenney, Neon Dreams, Quote The Raven, Rich Aucoin, and Villages. 

2019 JUNO Awards. Jeremy Dutcher. Photo Credit: CARASiPhoto

There’s a vibrant soul/R&B/hip-hop scene that has grown to include legendary figures like Dutch Robinson, one of the original lead singers with the Ohio Players, as well as artists like Chris Kirby, Classified, Gary Beals, Jamie Sparks, Jody Upshaw, Reeny Smith and Quake Matthews.

A strong Indigenous musical community has also thrived here: with artists like Black & Grey, City Natives, Don Ross, Eastern Owl and Jeremy Dutcher, among many others.

Some say the future belongs to Black and Indigenous music in the region.

“Owen O’Sound Lee and ANSMA and St Thomas United Baptist Church in Preston are growing the new generation of Black N.S. singers,” says local musician Kev Corbett. “The future is bright.”

Written by Doug Gallant.

Featured Image: 2017 Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class selected artists Neon Dreams perform at The JUNOS Presented by TD (June 2020)