Rita MacNeil

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Rita MacNeil
Birth name Rita MacNeil
Born (1944-05-28)May 28, 1944
Big Pond, Nova Scotia
Died April 16, 2013(2013-04-16) (aged 68)
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Genres country, folk
Occupations Singer
Years active 1975–2013
Labels Virgin Records
Website www.ritamacneil.com

Rita MacNeil, CM, ONS (May 28, 1944 – April 16, 2013) was a Canadian country and folk singer from the community of Big Pond on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. Her biggest hit, "Flying On Your Own", was a crossover Top 40 hit in 1987 and was covered by Anne Murray the following year, although she had hits on the country charts throughout her career. In the United Kingdom, MacNeil's song "Working Man" was a No. 11 hit in 1990.[1]

In 1990, she was the bestselling country artist in Canada, outselling even Garth Brooks and Clint Black. She was also the only female singer ever to have three separate albums chart in the same year in Australia.

Personal life[edit]

MacNeil had a daughter, Laura Lewis,[2] and a son, Wade Langham.


A native of Big Pond, Cape Breton County, MacNeil first performed on stage in 1971, and recorded her first album, Born a Woman, in 1975. She performed at folk festivals throughout the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in her major label debut and pop breakthrough in 1987.

MacNeil hosted a CBC Television variety show, Rita and Friends, from 1994 to 1997. The show won a Gemini Award in 1996. She also ran a tea room in her hometown of Big Pond,[2] which has become one of Cape Breton Island's most popular tourist attractions.

She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1992 and was awarded the Order of Nova Scotia in 2005.[3]

She was featured in a Season 4 episode of Trailer Park Boys, wherein she and her band were forced to harvest marijuana at gunpoint.

Research done by historians Steve Hewitt and Christabelle Sethna on documents from the now-defunct Royal Canadian Mounted Police Security Service have revealed accounts of the force having spied on feminists, including MacNeil, during the 1970s.[4]

MacNeil wrote her memoirs On a Personal Note with Anne Simpson in 1998, which was published by Key Porter Books.

Flying On Her Own, a play based on MacNeil's life and featuring many of her songs, premiered at Live Bait Theatre in Sackville, NB in 2000. Written by Canadian playwright Charlie Rhindress, it was subsequently produced by Neptune Theatre in Halifax, NS in 2002 and published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2008.


MacNeil died April 16, 2013, from complications of surgery after a recurrent infection.[5][6][2] Early reports from the Globe and Mail that MacNeil contracted an infection while in the hospital were not correct, and the newspaper later reprinted an article of correction.[7]



Year Single Chart Positions CRIA
CAN Country CAN
1975 Born a Woman
1981 Part of the Mystery
1983 I'm Not What I Seem
1987 Flying On Your Own 27 2× Platinum
1988 Reason to Believe 20 2× Platinum
Now the Bells Ring 3× Platinum
1989 Rita 31 2× Platinum
1990 Home I'll Be 22 2× Platinum
1992 Thinking of You 19 19 Platinum
1993 Once Upon a Christmas 44 Platinum
1994 Volume 1: Songs from the Collection 31 Platinum
1995 Porch Songs Gold
1996 Joyful Sounds: A Seasonal Collection
1997 Music of a Thousand Nights
1998 Full Circle
1999 A Night at the Orpheum
2000 Mining the Soul Gold
2002 Late December
Common Dream
2004 The Ultimate Collection
Blue Roses
2006 Songs My Mother Loved
2008 Pocket Full of Dreams
2010 The Spirit of Christmas (with Frank Mills)
2012 Saving Grace


Year Title Peak chart positions Album
1986 "Flying On Your Own" 42 Flying On Your Own
1987 "Used to You" 18
"Fast Train to Tokyo" 14
1988 "Leave Her Memory" 32
"Working Man" * * * Reason to Believe
"Walk On Through" * * *
"Reason to Believe" * * *
1989 "I'll Accept the Rose" 9 Rita
"We'll Reach the Sky Tonight" 3 81
1990 "Crazy Love" 6
"When Love Surrounded You and I" 31
"Why Do I Think of You Today" 17
"You Taught Me Well" 6 64 Home I'll Be
1991 "Watch Love Grow Strong" 9
"Call Me and I'll Be There" 14 81
1992 "Bring It On Home to Me" 44 8 69 Thinking of You
1993 "Shining Strong" 23 5
1995 "Steal Me Away" Porch Songs
"Rolling Thunder" 16 87
"—" denotes releases that did not chart
* denotes unknown peak positions

International singles[edit]

Year Title Peak positions Album
1988 "The Music's Going Around Again" Reason to Believe
1990 "Working Man" (UK release) 11
"Flying On Your Own" (UK release) Flying On Your Own
1991 "Leave Her Memory" (UK release)
"She's Called Nova Scotia"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


  1. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 341. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  2. ^ a b c "Rita MacNeil's funeral packs Big Pond church". CBC News, April 22, 2013.
  3. ^ "Rita MacNeil receives N.S. honour". CBC News, November 1, 2005.
  4. ^ "RCMP spied on Rita MacNeil, feminists in 1970s". CTV News. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  5. ^ "Canadians pay tribute to Rita MacNeil | CTV Atlantic News". Atlantic.ctvnews.ca. 2005-02-20. Retrieved 2013-04-18. 
  6. ^ "Rita MacNeil dies at 68 after surgery; son says she had been planning summer concerts". Toronto Star, April 17, 2013.
  7. ^ "Rita MacNeil did not have hospital-acquired infection, health officials say". The Globe and Mail. April 26, 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-09. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]