Gene MacLellan

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Gene MacLellan
Born(1938-02-02)February 2, 1938
Val-d'Or, Quebec
DiedJanuary 19, 1995(1995-01-19) (aged 56)
Summerside, Prince Edward Island
Instrumentsguitar, voice
Years active1950s-1995

Gene MacLellan (February 2, 1938 – January 19, 1995) was a Canadian singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island.[1][2] Among his compositions were "Snowbird", made famous by Anne Murray, "Put Your Hand in the Hand, "The Call", "Pages of Time" and "Thorn in My Shoe". Elvis Presley, Lynn Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Joan Baez and Bing Crosby were among the many artists who recorded MacLellan's songs.

Early life[edit]

MacLellan was born in Val-d'Or, Quebec in 1938.[3] He grew up in Toronto in a working class Presbyterian family.[4] As a child MacLellan contracted polio.[1]

MacLellan was one of the founding members of The Consuls, a Toronto rock band formed in 1956. He played lead and rhythm guitar and sang with the group between 1956 and 1960.[5] In 1963 MacLellan was injured in a car accident in which his father died.[1] MacLellan suffered scarring on the left side of his face as a result of the accident. In 1964 he moved to Pownal, Prince Edward Island, where he lived with his aunt and worked as a farm labourer and mental hospital attendant.[4][2]


While living in Prince Edward Island, MacLellan began writing songs, including "Snowbird", which was inspired by his observation of a flock of snow buntings on a beach.[3] He made his first television appearance in 1970 on Don Messer's Jubilee. In the same year he became a regular performer on Singalong Jubilee with Anne Murray and Bill Langstroth.[6]

In 1970 Anne Murray's recording of "Snowbird" became a hit in Canada and the United States. BMI recognized MacLellan as the first Canadian songwriter to have a song broadcast over one million times in the United States.[6] MacLellan won a Juno Award in 1971 as Canadian composer of the year, while Anne Murray was named best female vocalist.[7]

In 1971 the Canadian band Ocean's recording of MacLellan's "Put Your Hand in the Hand" became a hit, reaching number two on the pop charts in the United States.[6] Over 100 performers, including Elvis Presley, Joan Baez, and Bing Crosby, have recorded "Put Your Hand in the Hand".[2]

In 1970 he released an album entitled Gene MacLellan, which included "The Call", another of his compositions that became a hit for Anne Murray. His shy and introspective nature made public performances difficult for him. He made his first cross-country tour in early 1972.[3] In Toronto, he played at Massey Hall, the Canadian National Exhibition, and the Riverboat coffee house.[2]

MacLellan released a second album, If It's Alright with You, in 1977. In 1979 he recorded Gene and Marty, an album of gospel songs, with his fellow Prince Edward Islander Marty Reno. From 1980 until his death in 1995 MacLellan performed only in small noncommercial venues such as churches, prisons, and nursing homes.[2] He was active in "Cons for Christ", a Christian organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of prison inmates in Canada.[4]

Mental health issues and death[edit]

MacLellan suffered from depression throughout his life. During his later years his condition worsened, leading to hospitalization at Prince County Hospital in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.[4] Shortly after his release from hospital MacLellan committed suicide at his home in Summerside, on January 19, 1995.[1]

Posthumous awards and tributes[edit]

MacLellan was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.[8] In 1996 he was given the East Coast Music Association's Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award.[2]

Upon hearing of Gene's passing, Ron Hynes sat down at his piano and wrote the song "Godspeed", in 10 minutes, as described in the Ron Hynes biography: One Man Grand Band [p 149-150], by Harvey Sawler.

In 1995 the Canadian folksinger John Gracie released an album entitled A Gene MacLellan Tribute.

In 2017 MacLellan's daughter Catherine MacLellan presented a show entitled "If It's Alright With You – The Life and Music of My Father, Gene MacLellan" that was described as "part theatre, part Island music history lesson, and part mental-health awareness campaign".[9] Her album If It's Alright With You: The Songs of Gene MacLellan was released on 30 June 2017 by True North Records.[10] She believes that her father would appreciate the tribute. "He would be happy to know his songs continue on, being remembered and given a new spark," she said. "It’s a testament to what a young guy from very humble beginnings can do."[11]



Year Album CAN
1970 Gene MacLellan 80
Street Corner Preacher
1977 If It's Alright with You
1979 Gene & Marty (with Marty Reno)
1997 Lonesome River (posthumous compilation)


Year Single Chart Positions Album
1970 "The Call" 15 91 Gene MacLellan
"Thorn in My Shoe" 20
1971 "Isle of Saint Jean" 8 84
"Pages of Time" 26
1972 "Lonesome River" 16 singles only
"I Get Drunk on Monday" 10
1977 "Shilo Song" 14 If It's Alright with You


  1. ^ a b c d Talevski, Nick (2010). Knocking on Heaven's Door: Rock Obituaries. Omnibus Press. pp. 388–389. ISBN 9781846090912.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Nygaard King, Betty (20 November 2011). "Gene MacLellan". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Bennett, Michael (23 March 1972). "Snowbird writer showing his 'scars'". Windsor Star. Canadian Press. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d MacAndrew, Barbara (28 January 1995). "Songwriter 'born with a thorn' in his shoe". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. C11.
  5. ^ Wright, Gary R. (2012). Troubles and Trials. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4669-7420-3.
  6. ^ a b c Mersereau, Bob (2015). The History of Canadian Rock 'n' Roll. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4950-2890-8.
  7. ^ "Murray and Juneau among Juno winners". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. 23 February 1971. p. 12.
  8. ^ "Gene MacLellan". Canadian Country Music Association. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Tale of two MacLellans is story of mental health and music". Prince Edward Island Canada. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  10. ^ Andrews, Elizabeth. "Spill Album Review: Catherine MacLellan – If It's Alright With You: The Songs of Gene MacLellan". Spill Magazine. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  11. ^ "P.E.I. singer/songwriter Catherine MacLellan has long explored her father Gene's catalogue while establishing her own music career". Guardian. 30 September 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2018.

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