R.I.P. Rita MacNeil

[Content Note: fat hatred.]

Rita MacNeil, folk singer and Cape Breton icon, has passed away at age 68. Gifted with a beautiful voice, great stage presence, and what seemed to be a genuinely warm personality, she overcome extreme shyness to become a widely-beloved figure in Canadian music:
MacNeil was famously shy, but said her parents helped her overcome that trait by constantly reminding her to believe in herself.

"You can be shy," she said. "You can work through all kinds of struggle. But somewhere deep down, you have to have belief or nothing's going to happen."

...MacNeil recorded 24 albums and sold millions of records over the course of her career.

She hosted a CBC-TV variety program, Rita and Friends, which ran from 1994 to 1997 and drew regular audiences of one million viewers. MacNeil's Christmas variety shows drew loyal viewers.

MacNeil was a member of the Order of Canada and the recipient of five honorary doctorates. In 1986, she opened Rita’s Tea Room in her hometown of Big Pond, where she also gave performances.
MacNeil's themes were frequently rooted in the experiences of impoverished Atlantic Canadians, but her sweet, church choir-like delivery gave her songs a distinctive sound in the crowded field of Canadian folk music:
Once she got onstage or behind a microphone in the recording studio, “she became a force of nature,” LeBlanc said, her crystal-clear alto sweetly delivering an often-anthemic mix of hard truths and sentiment that could soften the coldest heart.

Yet as sweet as that voice was, “it had something in it that was more than just pleasant, a little bit extra,” said long-time Globe and Mail and CBC Radio music contributor Robert Harris. “What intrigues us in the pop world is ambiguity and contradiction … two things that should be separate from each other but are together.” So while a major MacNeil song such as 1982’s Working Man was about the tough lives of Cape Breton coal miners, it “was presented in this angelic, church-choir voice … The sound she [was] making [was] so different from the experiences being described. That’s moving because the brain processes the two.”
And, of course, there was the body shame and fat hatred lobbed at her, even by those who admired her music. Such a lovely voice...too bad she is so fat, etc. It must have hurt tremendously, but MacNeil persevered. I note that, even with her death the Globe and Mail tribute to her keeps mentioning that she was not attractive, a framing Rita herself rejected:
MacIntyre’s best memory of MacNeil, date unspecified, happened on CBC-TV’s the fifth estate when the late Eric Malling asked MacNeil “if she might have been more successful were she, um, beautiful. She replied without hesitation: ‘But, Eric, I am beautiful.’ And from that moment on, if not before, she was.”
Beautiful? Yes. She certainly was.

[VIDEO: Rita MacNeil and Men of the Deep perform 'Working Man,'
to a slideshow of mining images.]

[Note: If there are more negative things to be said about MacNeil, they are excluded because I am not aware of them, not because of any desire to cover them up. Please feel free to comment on the entirety of her life and work in this thread.]

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