Legendary Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot, famous for songs including “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” has died at the age of 84.
Lightfoot’s career was studded with awards, including seventeen Juno awards, four ASCAP awards, and five Grammy nominations; in 1974 “Sundown” was named pop record of the year by the Music Operators of America. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986.
“If there was a Mt. Rushmore in Canada, Gordon would be on it,” musician Tom Cochrane said in the 2019 documentary “Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.” Cochrane lauded Lightfoot at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala in 2003, saying, “Gordon’s songs are works of art, every bit as relevant as classic poetry. But even more importantly, Gordon Lightfoot led the way and he showed us … that you can be true to your roots. You can draw on your influences at home and country and you can incorporate those inspirations into the fabric of your work and still be internationally successful.”
“He is our poet laureate, he is our iconic singer-songwriter,” Rush singer Geddy Lee stated.
Lightfoot was born in Orillia, Ontario, on November 17, 1938. He sang in his church choir, performed in local operettas and oratorios, and set high school records in the shot-put and pole vault, as well as playing the starting nose tackle on his school’s Georgian Bay championship-winning football team. He earned scholarships to McGill University’s School of Music and the University of Toronto.
In 1958, Lightfoot moved to California to study jazz composition and orchestration for two years at Hollywood’s Westlake College of Music. He returned to Canada in 1960 and started performing at coffee houses. In 1962, he released two singles produced by Chet Atkins: “(Remember Me) I’m the On” and “Negotiations”/”It’s Too Late, He Wins.” They became local hits in Toronto.
Peter, Paul and Mary recorded Lightfoot’s “Early Mornin’ Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me,” which were also recorded by a number of other famous performers. In 1966, Lightfoot’s debut album “Lightfoot” was released, but it wasn’t until 1970, with the release of “If You Could Read My Mind,” that Lightfoot became a star.
Lightfoot followed that hit with a string of others.
“Sometimes I wonder why I’m being called an icon, because I really don’t think of myself that way,” he told The Globe and Mail. “I’m a professional musician, and I work with very professional people. It’s how we get through life.”