Under pressure to complete their first album, the seven-member Toronto band Parachute Club approached poet Lynne Fernie, who provided the lyrics for Rise Up. The band’s singer and guitarist Lorraine Segato (born in Hamilton, Ontario) contributed additional lyrics. Drummer Billy Bryans (born in Toronto), keyboard player Lauri Conger (from Thunder Bay, Ontario), and Toronto-born bassist Steve Webster collectively wrote the music.
Parachute Club was no ordinary pop band; they were fronted by four women and had a clearly defined purpose. Segato told pop music historian Bob Mersereau, “We were trying to break new ground in whatever we could, politics and music. We were four women, three men, and we wanted to show that women could be players, in music and the world. And we wanted to show that politics could be danceable, too.”
Parachute Club debuted the anthemic Rise Up at a 1983 Toronto Pride event at the University of Toronto to several hundred fans, who bravely cheered the lyrics “We want freedom to love who we please.” Although Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms had recently come into being, gay rights were still in their infancy. Explained Segato, “The impetus for Rise Up’s success first came from our grassroots gay, lesbian and feminist community, who were the first to hear and awaken to our call for equality.”
With such a positive response under their belt, Parachute Club recorded Rise Up for their self-titled debut album (Current WAVE-2), produced by the now-legendary Daniel Lanois at his Hamilton studio.
Rise Up’s youthful energy and idealism virtually guaranteed a hit: “Oh, rise up and show your power…./ We want power, we want to make it okay.”
In addition to gay rights, in 1983 people were talking about Cruise missiles, arms control, and military conflicts in the Falkland Islands, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Grenada, as reflected in the lyrics, “Talkin' 'bout the right time to be workin' for peace / Wantin' all the tension in the world to ease.”
Rise Up (Current WAKE-3-N) entered RPM’s Top Singles chart in late July 1983 and peaked at No. 9 in October; it reached CHUM’s top five. It also made Billboard’s dance music chart, topping out at No. 26.
With the single’s success, Parachute Club rushed to make a video; the resultant production with its dancing, celebratory Pied Piper vibe earned a Juno nomination. (“Toronto Life” later chose it as one of the best music videos shot in Toronto.)
“The Parachute Club” album went gold by December 1983.
Parachute Club won the Juno in 1984 for Most Promising Group of the Year, and the single won Single of the Year against stiff competition from Bryan Adams and Corey Hart.
Rise Up was later remixed for Parachute Club’s albums “At the Feet of the Moon” and “Moving Thru’ the Moonlight,” and as an extended dance and club version.
In 2005, the CBC chose Rise Up as one of its top 50 Canadian tracks; later CBC listeners chose it for a Canadian playlist for US president Barack Obama.
In addition, Rise Up was sampled by Retrocity and covered by a capella vocal group The Nylons, and it features on the seminal Canadian compilation “Oh, What a Feeling.” A collective of country stars recorded a 35th anniversary tribute, Rise Up Redux.
Notably, Segato sang the inspirational Rise Up at the wedding of the New Democratic Party’s Jack Layton and Olivia Chow, and in 2011 at Layton’s state funeral.
Rise Up was also featured in the award-winning Sarah Polley film “Take This Waltz,” as well as several TV documentaries.
Parachute Club is in the Canadian Indies Hall of Fame. Their other hits include At the Feet of the Moon, and Love Is Fire. After the group disbanded in 1988, Conger left the music business and the other members pursued careers as performers or producers. Segato and Fernie also directed and wrote films. The Juno-nominated Steve Webster is a composer and producer. Juno-award winning drummer and producer Billy Bryans passed away in 2012.