New Brunswick singer-songwriter Édith Butler has left her mark as an ambassador of Acadian culture, releasing 27 albums in her 50-year career (including two platinum and one gold). Her music is distinctive, embracing and ingeniously blending traditional and contemporary sounds.
Édith Butler, born Marie Nicole Butler in 1942 in Paquetville, New Brunswick, was the eldest of five children. The Butler family lived in a geographically and culturally isolated community; with no television or other electronic entertainment, they made music almost every evening, Édith playing piano, violin, accordion and later guitar.
From her spirited stage shows one would never guess that Butler first sang on stage to help her overcome shyness. From that humble beginning at a local talent show, she then sang Acadian folk songs on Moncton radio, and in 1962 became a regular on CBC television’s variety show “Singalong Jubilee.”
From these East Coast shows, Butler’s popularity spread to Quebec and French Canada, and her charisma led her to the great folk festivals of the era, including Mariposa as well as Chicago and Washington.
During the 1960s she obtained a Bachelor of Arts, taught school, and then earned a Master’s degree in literature and traditional ethnography in 1969. She also released her debut album, “Chansons d’Acadie,” of traditional Acadian songs.
Butler then represented Canada at Expo 1970 in Osaka, Japan, where she gave an astounding 500 performances. On the folk circuit, she toured Canada, the U.S. (especially Louisiana), Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, and Belgium, her contagious energy earning her the nickname Mother Acadia following her many concerts in Paris including at the legendary Olympia.
After initially refusing a US record deal, Butler signed with Columbia and released another album of mostly traditional material in 1973, “Avant d’être dépaysée,” which included the first of her own early compositions.
She told “Maclean’s” magazine that she was expanding her songwriting horizons: “I used to be very nationalist. I sang because I wanted to prove something. But now I am going to start expressing myself more and my songs will only be Acadian inasmuch as I am.”
Butler’s subsequent recordings and her songwriting (often with lyricist Lise Aubut) embraced not only her Acadian roots but also blues, pop, rock, Cajun sounds, and even echoes of the ballad and chanson stylings of that other famous Edith, France’s Piaf.
As a songwriter, Butler is best known for Je vous aime, ma vie recommence; Marie Caissie; L’Acadie se marie; Laissez-moi dérouler le soleil; C’est beau l’amour; Un million de fois je t’aime; and of course Paquetville, which was earlier inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Among Butler’s songs that reference Acadia or its people are Asteur qu’on est là, Ne m’appelle plus l’Acadienne, Oh cher, veux-tu venir danser, Ca swingue au pays de la Sagouine and Quand je reviendrai a Caraquet.
As Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Luc Plamondon put it, Butler’s music is “a Francophone repertoire that traverses centuries and continents, with world music arrangements of today.”
Together, Butler and Lise Aubut wrote 150 songs. Butler has also co-composed with Plamondon, Angèle Arsenault, and Clémence Desrochers.
She has enjoyed international commercial success with the platinum-selling album “Le party d’Edith,” which won ADISQ’s Félix awards in 1986 for best-selling album and most distinguished Francophone artist outside Quebec. “Et le party continue” also went platinum, and “Party pour danser” gold.
Butler described her music for the “Globe and Mail”: “What I bring audiences is not a history course but a show full of life and joy. It shows what I am and what Canadians are. We are a fun-loving bunch.”
For popularizing traditional Acadian songs and for her part in developing Acadian culture, Butler has received the Order of Canada, the Governor-General’s Performing Arts Award, the SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award, the East Coast Music Awards’ Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award, and the National Order of New Brunswick. France has recognized her with its Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles-Cros, the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.