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Canadian Country and Folk Icon Rita MacNeil Dead at 68

Rita MacNeil

The death of Canada’s First Lady of Song has shocked her friends, family and loyal fans who watched a shy adult turn into a prolific recording artist that hosted several national television shows. Rita MacNeil died Tuesday (April 16) after a complication from surgery. The Big Pond, N.S. native was a beloved figure in her home country and she’s being remembered now as a gracious friend and talented singer-songwriter.

At 41 MacNeil got her break in Vancouver in 1986, according to CBC News. One year later she won a Juno Award as the most promising female artist, and with 24 albums selling millions of copies over the next three decades, she more than lived up to that billing. Songs like ‘Working Man’ were a bit hit internationally, while others like ‘I’ll Accept the Rose’ and ‘Watch Love Grow Strong’ were Top 10 hits on Canadian country radio.

On Wednesday (April 17), Canadian music journalist Larry LeBlanc remembered a woman who battled stage fright to the end but became a “force of nature” when she stepped into the spotlight. MacNeil wasn’t “someone well-suited to the music business at all,” he told the Globe and Mail.

“Rita was not externally the epitome of beauty but inside she was quite beautiful,” novelist Alistair MacLeod told the same source. Other tributes came pouring in from social media.

“We just lost a Canadian legend,” Terri Clark said on Twitter. “Rest in peace Rita McNeil. So happy to have had the pleasure of working with you.”

“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,” fellow Nova Scotian Anne Murray wrote on Facebook.

A member of the Order of Canada, MacNeil died from post-surgical complications. Her agent told the CBC that she had been hospitalized with an infection, but he didn’t share further details. According to her website, she leaves behind two children.

Next: See Other Country Artists Who've Died in 2013

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