A true singer-songwriter leaves not only the lasting impression of his performance but also the legacy of his song. Multiple awards, astonishing record sales, and endless accolades by his fans and peers have marked Gordon Lightfoot’s career as a singer. As a songwriter, he is already a legend.
Born Gordon Meredith Lightfoot on November 17, 1938, in the city of Orillia, Ontario, Lightfoot’s first musical love was barbershop singing. He appeared in several award-winning groups in his youth, before trying his hand at penning his own material.
Lightfoot eventually did write his first song, called The Hula Hoop Song, in 1957. He pitched it to BMI publishing, and when it was turned down, he used the constructive criticism he received as inspiration to pursue songwriting with an even greater fervour.
Inspired by folk duo Ian & Sylvia, Lightfoot embraced the folk movement that was sweeping Toronto coffee shops and clubs. He became a performance mainstay on the Yorkville scene while he built up his repertoire. Some of Lightfoot’s best work emerged from his friendship with Ian Tyson of Ian & Sylvia.
Lightfoot became a very popular singer-songwriter worldwide in the early 1970s. The public responded to his timeless folk style, his poetic narration and his love for describing all things Canadian. Some of his most successful songs in Canada were Canadian Railroad Trilogy, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and Sundown.
In the United States, his success was in response to his songwriting, as introduced to the public by popular artists of the day, including Elvis Presley, Peter, Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan, covering songs such as Early Morning Rain, For Lovin’ Me and If You Could Read My Mind. Lightfoot’s work helped to open the door for Canadians to make it stateside.
Classic artists such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Olivia Newton-John and Barbara Streisand have all covered various Gordon Lightfoot works. Here at home, artists Stompin’ Tom Connors, Ian & Sylvia, Anne Murray, Sarah McLachlan, and the Tragically Hip, to name but a few, have also recorded his songs.
Since his first solo recording in 1965, Lightfoot has recorded 18 other albums and more than 200 songs – and has written even more. In addition to his five Grammy nominations, Lightfoot was the recipient of a MIDEM award for best-selling Canadian artist for 1967 and has taken home 17 Juno Awards. In 1986, he was inducted into the Juno Awards Hall of Fame; in 1970, he became a companion of the Order of Canada; and in 1997, was honoured with the Governor General’s Award. In September 2001, Gordon Lightfoot was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame.