Music of Canada

Canada's music has mirrored the history and culture of the country. From early British-style patriotic songs and the folk traditions of the many founding cultures, to the international success of cutting-edge alternative music bands, music has been an ever evolving part of Canada's cultural life. The country's tradition of folk music, with its basis in every region and community in the country, is complemented by strong domestic and international contributions to popular music.

From artists like country singer Hank Snow in the 1950s, to the hard rock of bands like Rush and The Guess Who in 1960s and 1970s, to worldwide pop stars like Bryan Adams, Céline Dion, Shania Twain in the 1980s and 1990s, to the promise of the current wave of Canadian musicians typified by performers as diverse as the Arcade Fire, Billy Talent, k-os, Avril Lavigne Bucky Kentucky and Alexisonfire, Canada's music is a valuable contribution to global culture.

Popular music

Before the explosion of modern popular music Canada produced several notable stars. Bea Lillie of the World War 2 era, songwriter Shelton Brooks, doo wop group The Four Lads, bandleader Guy Lombardo, pop stars Gisele MacKenzie and Robert Goulet, jazz virtuosos Maynard Ferguson, Moe Koffman, and Oscar Peterson, and pop-country stars Wilf Carter and Hank Snow were all well-known.

The History of Canadian Music


In 1970, the Canadian government passed Canadian content legislation. On January 18, 1971 regulations came into force requiring AM radio stations to devote 30 per cent of their musical selections to Canadian content. Although this was (and still is) controversial, it quite clearly contributed to the development of a nascent Canadian pop star system. The Juno Awards were first held in 1971, partially as an attempt to revitalize the Canadian pop industry.

The most immediate effect of the Canadian content regulations was the sudden rise to fame of Anne Murray, whose 1970 "Snowbird" was a multi-million selling record. Led by The Guess Who, Murray, Lighthouse, the Poppy Family and The Irish Rovers, the early 1970s were a golden age for Canadian music. Following in these pioneers' footsteps was a wave of new bands, including April Wine, The Bells, Triumph, The Stampeders, Five Man Electrical Band, Crowbar, Trooper, FM, Fludd, Saga, Prism, and Chilliwack.

The Canadian music industry was still nascent, however, with little independent music media and a limited distribution infrastructure. The two most internationally renowned bands to arise from this industry were Rush and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, both dominated by powerful managers. Bachman-Turner Overdrive's manager, Bruce Allen, went on to Loverboy and eventually manage such major pop stars as Bryan Adams, Martina McBride, and Anne Murray.

Diversification in the late 1970s

Canadian pop music evolved with the times, reflecting worldwide trends. In the late 1970s, as punk rock and disco ruled the landscape, Canadian punkers such as The Diodes, D.O.A.., The Viletones, The Forgotten Rebels, Pointed Sticks, Rough Trade, Teenage Head, The Demics, and The Young Canadians were there, along with disco divas like Patsy Gallant, Lisa Dalbello, France Joli, and Claudja Barry.

Rockers such as Sweeney Todd, Nick Gilder, Red Rider, Doucette, Triumph, Dan Hill, Trooper, Prism and Max Webster were also significant in the late 1970s.

Number one in a field of one was avant-garde electronic rocker Nash The Slash, whose first EP Bedside Companion was released in 1978.

Canadian cultural critics have noted that in general, the late 1970s were a lesser era for Canadian music. Many of the acts who had defined the earlier half of the decade were no longer recording, and the new artists emerging in this era simply didn't seem to be able to capture the Canadian pop zeitgeist in the same way. Many of them, in fact, were only "one-hit wonders".

However, a number of established Canadian acts, including Rush, Bruce Cockburn, Gino Vannelli, April Wine and Neil Young, remained influential and recorded some of their most popular material of all during this period, and former Guess Who lead singer Burton Cummings emerged as a popular solo artist. Another of this period's most influential and popular rock bands, Heart, resulted from the collaboration of two sisters from Seattle with a supporting band from Vancouver.


When New Wave became popular in the early 1980s, acts such as The Parachute Club, Rough Trade, Spoons, Trans-X, Rational Youth, Men Without Hats, Norman Iceberg, Images in Vogue, and Martha and the Muffins were along for the ride. (Rough Trade were particularly notable for "High School Confidential", one of the first explicitly lesbian-themed pop songs to crack the Top 40 anywhere in the world.)

Hardcore punk, a term first used by Vancouver's D.O.A., briefly upset the New Wave hegemony in the period between 1981 to 1983 with groundbreaking acts such as zeroption dominating North American underground radio.

The 1980s also produced mainstream pop-rockers such as Bryan Adams, Tom Cochrane, Platinum Blonde, Glass Tiger, Honeymoon Suite, Coney Hatch, Headpins, Helix, Toronto, Sheriff and Corey Hart. As well, the era produced the quirky art-pop of Jane Siberry—who never exactly became a pop star, but remains one of Canada's most enduring cult artists—and the country cowpunk of k.d. lang, who did eventually become one of pop music's biggest names. Lisa Dalbello, who had emerged in the late 1970s as a dance-pop singer, also transformed herself into a darker, edgier art-rocker, shedding her first name and becoming simply Dalbello in 1984. Another musician from this period, Annette Ducharme, has had more success as a songwriter for other musicians than as a recording artist.

In the late 1980s, the Canadian recording industry continued to produce popular acts such as Alannah Myles, , Blue Rodeo, Andrew Cash, Barney Bentall, Jeff Healey, Chalk Circle, Kim Mitchell, Frozen Ghost, Sass Jordan, and Colin James. However, alternative rock also emerged as an influential genre, with independent artists such as 54-40, The Tragically Hip, Sarah McLachlan, Spirit of the West, The Waltons, Cowboy Junkies, The Pursuit of Happiness, and The Grapes of Wrath all gaining their first widespread attention during this time.

Also notable is Canadian progressive thrash metal band Voivod, who were and are highly respected in the metal community.


The 1980s were also notable for the emergence of several media outlets which transformed the Canadian music scene by providing new venues for artists to promote their music.

Toronto radio station CFNY emerged as an influential player in Canadian music during the New Wave era. It was the first commercial radio station in Canada to support many of Canada's new and emerging artists, as well as alternative artists from the United States and Great Britain. It retained its tastemaker status throughout the decade, until new owners in 1989 tried to turn it into a conventional Top 40 station.

CFNY also created the U-Knows, which later became the CASBY Awards, to promote and honour independent and alternative artists.

As in the United States, music videos became an important marketing tool for bands in the early 1980s. With the debut of MuchMusic in 1984 and MusiquePlus in 1986, both English and French Canadian musicians had outlets to promote their music through video. The networks, however, were not just an opportunity for artists to get their videos played—the networks created VideoFACT, a fund to help emerging artists produce their videos.


While the alternative revolution of the 1990s was kicked off in the United States by Nirvana and in the United Kingdom by The Stone Roses, in Canada it was ignited by an unassuming demo tape by the Barenaked Ladies. After The Yellow Tape became the hottest item in Canadian record stores in the fall of 1991, Barenaked-mania took the country by storm — in turn, paving the way for an explosion of Canadian bands to rule the airwaves.

The roster of artists emerging in this decade includes The Tea Party, Matthew Good Band, Sloan, The Gandharvas, Change of Heart, Skydiggers, Eric's Trip, the Doughboys, Crash Test Dummies, The Lowest of the Low, 13 Engines, Odds, The Killjoys, I Mother Earth, Econoline Crush, Age of Electric, The Rankin Family, Alanis Morissette, Rheostatics, Ashley MacIsaac, Susan Aglukark, The Cowboy Junkies, Limblifter, Great Big Sea, Our Lady Peace, The Philosopher Kings, Junkhouse, Treble Charger, Deborah Cox, Jann Arden, Ron Sexsmith, Hayden, Céline Dion, Rufus Wainwright, Crash Vegas, Loreena McKennitt, The Watchmen, and Shania Twain. The Barenaked Ladies didn't just clear the way for alternative bands, but for a whole new Canadian pop landscape, defined by a national pride and self-confident distinctiveness that had never been seen before in Canadian music.

Few bands benefited more from that landscape, however, than The Tragically Hip. Unlike the Guess Who, The Tragically Hip's lyrics proudly wore their Canadian perspective on their sleeves. And while the Hip have yet to achieve the level of success outside of Canada, it finally didn't matter: their Canadian fan base alone was enough to sustain a long, healthy career.

Alanis Morissette, too, kicked off another revolution in Canadian music. Just as Dalbello had a decade earlier, Morissette began as a dance-pop artist before transforming herself into an alternative rocker in 1995. She released the album Jagged Little Pill in 1995. The album was only expected to sell about 250,000 copies at the most, however it went on to sell over 30,000,000 worldwide it became the best selling debut album in history as well as the second best selling album by a female artist and the tenth best selling album of all time. The album stayed in the top ten charts longer than any other album in history except Michael Jackson's Thriller. However, Morissette's transformation launched an era in which Canadian women ruled the pop charts worldwide.

In the late 1990s, Morissette, Shania Twain, Céline Dion and Sarah McLachlan were among the most popular and influential recording artists in the world, but several other Canadian women made waves of their own. Deborah Cox's 1998 single "Nobody's Supposed to be Here" was the longest-running chart topper in the history of Billboard's R&B charts, Jann Arden scored an international hit with "Insensitive".

Also in the late 1990s, Elton John's 1997 re-recording of "Candle in the Wind" in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales spent almost two years on the Canadian Top 40 charts, substantially longer than in any other country. This was, in fact, a structural quirk of the Canadian market rather than a reflection on Canadian tastes in music—whereas some countries combine radio airplay and sales into a unified hits chart, in Canada these are separate charts. So few CD singles are available in Canadian record stores, in fact, that in some weeks, a single that is available on CD can chart on sales of fewer than 100 copies.


The 2000s have provided a number of new Canadian pop stars as well, with such acts as Skye Sweetnam, Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Sam Roberts, Nickelback, Shawn Desman, Simple Plan, Jacynthe, Hawksley Workman, Melissa Auf der Maur, Jarvis Church, Hot Hot Heat, Sarah Harmer, Prozzak, Sum 41, Pilate, The Trews, Billy Talent, Marie-Mai, Alexisonfire, Extreme metal group Strapping Young Lad, Bedouin Soundclash and Kathleen Edwards emerging during this era. Canadian hip-hop, which is discussed more extensively in a previous section, also finally made its mainstream breakthrough with the 2001 debut of Flow 93.5, Canada's first urban music radio station, in Toronto.

The decade has also been notable for a surprising number of ambitious indie rock albums by bands such as Tegan and Sara, The New Pornographers, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, The Hidden Cameras, The Dears, Constantines, Metric, The Weakerthans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Stars, Death from Above 1979, Feist, Wolf Parade, The Stills, Final Fantasy, The Unicorns, Royal City, Cuff the Duke, Black Mountain, The Luyas, Wax Mannequin, Chad VanGaalen, The Meligrove Band, Jim Guthrie, Veda Hille, Tokyo Police Club, Islands, Frog Eyes and Sunset Rubdown. Canada has also produced acts of a more avant-garde nature; better known acts such as the new-wave slanted Les Georges Leningrad and AIDS Wolf, comprised of members of the printmaking collective, Serigraphie Populaire, or Seripop. These two acts have achieved a certain notoriety in circles embracing a more noise-oriented aesthetic, similar to that of international acts such as Lightning Bolt or Boredoms. Each of these bands has attracted a large following by pursuing unique interpretations of pop and rock music, subverting many of the conventions of the genres in a way that is still fresh and accessible. The Canadian indie rock scene has been the focus of national and international attention in many publications, such as Spin, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, as well the Canadian edition of Time.

Canadian Idol

An influential musical tastemaker in this era (which debuted in June 2003) has been the television show Canadian Idol. Like its counterparts Pop Idol and American Idol, the Canadian talent show offered audiences an interactive contest to crown the most talented young singer in Canada. The series attracted huge audiences, ultimately choosing Ryan Malcolm as its first winner. While Malcolm did subsequently have a couple of Top 40 hits, his post-Idol album was panned by music critics, and did not sell as well as had been hoped. It remains to be seen whether Malcolm can build a long-term career on his Idol victory.

However, as with the American series, other Idol contestants — most notably Billy Klippert, Gary Beals and Toya Alexis — have also been offered recording deals as a result of their Idol exposure, and may also emerge as major artists as well.

On September 16, 2004, Kalan Porter was named as the second Canadian Idol, winning over Theresa Sokyrka. Jacob Hoggard has released 2 post-Idol albums with band Hedley) in Canada and 1 in the United States. Many say he is the most successful to come from Canadian Idol. Melissa O'Neil became the third winner — and the first female winner and the youngest Idol winner in North America (at that time)—on September 14, 2005, narrowly winning over runner-up Rex Goudie. She was followed by Eva Avila in 2006 and Brian Melo in 2007.

In 2006 the Canadian Idol contestants were recognized by the Juno Awards with eight nominations, including Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Pop Album of the Year, Rock Album of the Year, and New Group of the Year.

Canadian contributions by genre


The blues is a vocal and instrumental form of music based on the use of the blue notes, often with a repetitive twelve-bar structure, which evolved in the United States in the communities of former African slaves. Canadian blues refers to the blues and blues-related music (e.g. blues-rock, folk blues, etc.) performed by blues bands and performers in Canada.

In Canada, there are hundreds of local and regionally-based Canadian blues bands and performers. As well, there is a smaller number of bands or performers that have achieved national or international prominence. These bands and performers are part of a broader Canadian "blues scene" that also includes city or regional blues societies, blues radio shows, and blues festivals.

A small number of Canadian blues bands and artists have achieved national or international prominence by touring across Canada, the US, or Europe, and releasing recordings that have received critical or audience acclaim in Canada and abroad. The performers below are listed according to the decade during which they first achieved national or international prominence:

Canadian blues recording labels include: NorthernBlues Music (launched in 2001 by President Fred Litwin); Stony Plain Records, an Alberta-based label founded by Holger Petersen; and Electro-Fi Records [], launched in 1997 by founder and president Andrew Galloway.

Canadian blues societies help to promote the appreciation and performance of blues music. Blues societies are often involved in the organization or promotion of local blues festivals and educational activities. Blues society educational activities include presentations on blues history, elementary school "outreach" activities, and workshops. Some blues societies organize awards for blues musicians.


Classical music in Canada is performed by a variety of orchestras, such as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and many smaller orchestras and groups; such as the Canadian Brass.

Several important musicians of international stature were born and raised in Canada. These include the pianist Glenn Gould, violinist Lara St. John, tenor Ben Heppner, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, and many more.

With regard to composition, the earliest composers of classical music in Canada were generally Québécois Catholics who wrote religious music. In the twentieth century Canada has had many internationally-known composers, such as R. Murray Schafer, Srul Irving Glick, John Beckwith, Louis Applebaum, Violet Archer and Lucio Agostini.


Country music evolved out of the diverse musical practices of the Appalachian region of the United States. Appalachian folk music was largely Scottish and Irish, with an important influence also being the African American country blues. Parts of Ontario, British Columbia and the Maritime provinces shared a tradition with the Appalachian region, and country music became popular quite quickly in these places. Fiddlers like George Wade and Don Messer helped to popularize the style, beginning in the late 1920s. Wade was not signed until the 1930s, when Victor Record's, inspired by the success of Wilf Carter the year before, signed him, Hank Snow and Hank LaRivière.

Canadian country as developed by Otto Wilke, Carter, Snow and Earl Heywood, used a less nasal and more distinctly pronounced vocal style than American music, and stuck with more traditional ballads and narratives while American country began to use more songs about bars and lovers quarrels. This style of country music became very popular in Canada over the next couple decades. Later popular Canadian country stars range from Stompin' Tom Connors to Shania Twain.

Radio and television stations in Canada which play country music, however, are often more flexible in how they define the genre than their counterparts in the United States. Canadian country stations frequently play artists more commonly associated with folk music, such as Bruce Cockburn, Leahy and The Rankin Family.


Gaining speed in the west of Canada, the electronica scene grows rapidly within most major centres.

Internationally-renowned electronic artists from Canada include pioneering Winnipeg-based breakcore artist Aaron Funk a.k.a. Venetian Snares, indie-electronica group Junior Boys & quirky sound-artist Vitaminsforyou. Albertan electronica musicians include Mark Templeton, Escapist Opportunities, and organizers Electronic Music Calgary, creating venues throughout the province, though mainly in Calgary.


Some of Canada's most influential folk artists also emerged in this era, notably Stan Rogers, Ferron, Murray McLauchlan, and Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

In the 1970s, chansonniers grew steadily less popular with the encroachment of popular rock bands and other artists. Some performers did emerge, however, including Jacques Michel, Claude Dubois, and Robert Charlebois.

Joni Mitchell, one of the most influential folk and popular music singer songwriters of the 20th century, is also Canadian, born in Alberta.


Chansonniers were Quebecois singer-songwriters from the 1950s and 60s. They sang simple, poetic songs with a social conscience. The first chansonniers were La Bolduc, Raymond Lévesque and Félix Leclerc. It was not until the 60s, however, that chansonniers became such a major part of the Québécois music scene. This was largely due to the formation of Les Bozos in 1959. Les Bozos was an informal collective of chansonniers, including Lévesque, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Claude Léveillée, Clémence Desrochers, Talon Starsdawn, and Jacques Blanchet.

With the first stars popularizing the chansonnier format, a new generation of popular singers emerged in the 60s. These included Gilles Vigneault, Pierre Létourneau, Pierre Calvé, Hervé Brousseau, Georges Dor, Monique Miville-Deschênes, and Claude Gauthier. The boîtes à chansons, a kind of performance place for chansonniers (akin to coffee houses in the United States), also appeared during the 1960s, spread across Quebec.

The Chansonnier tradition has continued with artists who have been carrying on since the 1970s to the present. One good example is Diane Dufresne who also is prolific in the area of cabaret or theatre-rock.

Hip hop

Canadian hip hop developed much more slowly than the rock scene. Although Canada certainly had hip hop artists right from the early days of the scene, the infrastructure simply wasn't there to get their music to the record-buying public. Even Toronto, Canada's largest and most multicultural city, had difficulty getting an urban music station on the radio airwaves until 2000, so even if a Canadian hip-hop artist could get signed, it was exceedingly difficult for them to get exposure.

Devon, Maestro Fresh Wes and Dream Warriors did manage, for a brief time in the late 80s and early 90s, to break through to mainstream pop. In 1991, Milestone Radio applied to the CRTC for an urban station in Toronto, which would have been the first such station in Canada, but that application was denied in favour of a country music station (something which Toronto already had on its radio dial.)

The decision was controversial, and hurt the Canadian hip hop scene considerably. Only one Canadian rapper, Michie Mee, made an appearance on the national pop charts between 1992 and 1998—and even she only managed it by partnering with the hard rock band Raggadeath. (Snow, who had a hit in 1993 with "Informer", is sometimes mistakenly labeled a rapper, but in fact was more accurately described as dancehall than as hip hop.)

It should be noted that many American hip-hop bands were popular in Canada, and that Black Canadian musicians such as Infidels, Deborah Cox and The Philosopher Kings had notable successes in the pop and rock genres. But for Canadian hip-hoppers, by and large the door was closed.

That began to change in 1997, when several pivotal events occurred in close succession: Dubmatique broke through as the first Quebec rap band to top the francophone pop charts, the Vancouver hip hop band Rascalz gathered an all-star crew of emerging Canadian rappers to record the anthem "Northern Touch", which beat the odds to become the first Canadian hip hop hit in half a decade, and a controversy erupted in Toronto when Milestone was again passed over for an urban radio station. Instead, the CBC was awarded 99.1 to move its existing Radio One station from the AM band—and, ominously, this was believed at the time to be the last available FM frequency in the city.

Then, in 1998, Rascalz refused the Juno Award for Best Rap Recording, citing that the award was presented during the non-televised portion of the ceremony along with the technical awards. Stung by the allegation of racism, the Junos moved the Rap award to the main ceremony the following year. Also that year, Maestro Fresh Wes, now known simply as Maestro, broke Canadian hip-hop's hit jinx, with "Stick to Your Vision" becoming his first chart hit since 1991.

Hip-hop and trip-hop acts such as Esthero, Choclair, Saukrates and Kardinal Offishall were also beginning to make waves in the press, as the Rascalz controversy and Maestro's comeback renewed attention on Canadian hip-hop.

In the same year, the CBC's Toronto station completed its move to FM. Because the FM frequency offered better broadcast coverage, the CBC found that it was able to surrender two repeater transmitters serving communities outside of the city.

In 1999, the CRTC held hearings to assign the two FM frequencies surrendered by the CBC in 1998. One of the frequencies was awarded to Milestone, on the company's third application. (The other frequency was awarded to Aboriginal Voices for a station to serve First Nations communities.)

In 2000, CBC Television created and aired Drop the Beat, a television series about hip hop music and culture.

Finally, in 2001, Milestone's CFXJ (Flow 93.5) debuted as Canada's first urban music station. Urban stations quickly followed in several other Canadian cities, as well, and for the first time, Canadian hip-hop artists had a network of radio outlets for their music. Swollen Members, Nelly Furtado, k-os, Buck 65, Sixtoo, Jully Black, Jarvis Church, Shawn Desman, Glenn Lewis, Remy Shand, Eternia, and Toya Alexis were among the rap and R&B acts to benefit from this new era in Canadian music.


Canadian artists have had a significant impact on industrial music worldwide, and Canada is considered by many to be one of the birthplaces of modern industrial.

The first wave of Canadian industrial was born out of the Juno Award winning New Wave act, Images in Vogue. From this Vancouver-based band, guitarist Don Gordon went on to found Numb, and percussionist Kevin Crompton left in 1985 to focus on his side project, Skinny Puppy. Quickly signed to Nettwerk Records, Skinny Puppy is still an influential industrial act. Skinny Puppy has spawned numerous sideprojects over the years, including Download, The Tear Garden, Doubting Thomas, ohGr, Cyberaktif, and others.

Out of this environment also came Front Line Assembly, formed by former Skinny Puppy member Bill Leeb in 1986. Joined by Rhys Fulber (and later by Chris Peterson), FLA became one of the most commercially successful electro-industrial acts of the 90s, and spawned a host of sideprojects, including (but not limited to) Conjure One, Pro-Tech, Synæsthesia, Will, Intermix, Noise Unit, Equinox, Cyberaktif, Mutual Mortuary, and the vastly successful Delerium, which began life as an ambient project.


Jazz is a genre of African American music present in Canada since at least the 1910s. In 1919 and 1920 in Vancouver, Jelly Roll Morton, a legendary New Orleans pianist, played with his band. During this period, Canadian groups such as the Winnipeg Jazz Babies and the Westmount Jazz Band of Montreal also found regional acclaim.

During the swing boom of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Canada produced such notable bandleaders as Ellis McLintock, Bert Niosi, Jimmy Davidson, Mart Kenney, Stan Wood, and Sandy De Santis. In the 1940s, Bert Niosi and Oscar Peterson became widely known. Peterson became internationally acclaimed, and is a widely-respected Canadian jazz musician.

During the 1970s and 80s, the jazz fusion band Uzeb was a well known domestic and international jazz group.

Since 2000, a brand new list of Canadian jazz artists have rose to prominence including Diana Krall, Michael Buble, Matt Dusk, and Molly Johnson - often attracting international acclaim and success.

Other highly notable Canadian Jazz artists: Ed Bickert, Lenny Breau (born in Maine but lived in Canada), Gil Evans


Canada has had a rich history of metal bands over the past three decades and proves to have quite a thriving underground metal scene today.

Going back to the late 60s, Canada has produced metal bands that have and continue to influence metal bands to this day. In 1964 , Toronto based band The Sparrows formed in Toronto, Ontario , this band later changed their name to Steppenwolf and featured Canadians John Kay, Goldy McJohn and Jerry Edmonton. Steppenwolf's 1968 single Born to be Wild was the first use of the word Heavy metal in a song's lyrics. In 1970, Woodstock, Ontario based Warpig released their Proto Metal debut which although never reaching mainstream success like fellow heavy metal bands Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, has become a cult favorite within the Doom metal scene. In 1974 Toronto based progressive hard rock trio Rush released their first album and has become Canada's most internationally successful Hard rock export. Along with Rush was Triumph who enjoyed a successful string of albums in the late 70's and early to mid 80's and were an impressive live band who was known for elaborate stage lighting and pyrotechnics.

It was not long after the Bay Area Thrash metal scene and Teutonic thrash movement exploded that a new wave of Canadian thrash bands began to rise up and earned a dedicated following. Bands like Toronto's Anvil, Sacrifice and Razor, Montreal's Sword, and Ottawa's Exciter were local successes but also managed to become successful in Europe and Japan thanks in part by being invited to open for bands like Metallica and Slayer on their early tours.

Some of Canada's most successful bands in the 1980s were metal bands that opted to change their style from the early 80's roots metal sound to the growing Hair Metal style that became mainstream in the late 80's. Bands like Helix, Kick Axe, Brighton Rock and Killer Dwarfs saw growing popularity in the mid 80's thanks in part to Much Music and MTV playing their videos in regular rotation.

The year 1999 presented Spit, the debut album of the all-girl metal band Kittie, composed of Guitarist and singer Morgan Lander, drummer Mercedes Lander, bassist Talena Atfiels and guitarist Fallon Bowman, hailing from London, Ontario.

Canada's Death metal scene has produced artists most of whom are based out of Quebec. Bands like Kataklysm, Cryptopsy, Quo Vadis,Augury, Martyr, and Neuraxis have a strong underground following and are signed to major independent metal labels. In the 2000s Canadian metal has been put on the map by Vancouver band Strapping Young Lad featuring Devin Townsend, 3 Inches of Blood and Regina band Into Eternity. James Labrie lead singer of Dream Theater is Canadian born. Canada has a very strong underground metal scene in cities such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. In recent years Canada has spawned notable deathcore acts such as Despised Icon, Beneath the Massacre, and Ion Dissonance. Some other notable bands are Profugus Mortis, and Unexpect


After Elvis Presley's rockabilly style reached Canada in 1955, The Four Lads became one of the most prominent groups of the Canadian white R&B scene, which also included The Diamonds and The Crew Cuts. Crooner Paul Anka, however, became the first major pop star from Canada.


Ronnie Hawkins, an Arkansas-born rockabilly singer, became the most prominent figure in Canadian rock beginning in 1958. He did more than any other to popularize Canadian hard rock. He formed a backing band called The Hawks, which produced some of the earliest Canadian rock stars. Among them were the members of The Band, who began touring with Bob Dylan in 1966 and then struck out on their own in 1968, releasing well-remembered albums like Music from Big Pink and The Band.

Often, however, Canadian records were simply covers of American or British pop hits. One important example was a Winnipeg band called Chad Allan & the Expressions, who had a 1965 hit with a version of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates' "Shakin' All Over".

Folkier singers like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Denny Doherty (of The Mamas & the Papas), David Clayton-Thomas, Neil Young, Andy Kim, Zal Yanovsky (of The Lovin' Spoonful), John Kay (of Steppenwolf), and Ian & Sylvia also found international audiences. Their success paved the way for a new wave of Canadian singer-songwriters, including Stan Rogers, Murray McLauchlan, Bruce Cockburn and Willie P. Bennett.

Perhaps the most notable Canadian rock band is Rush, which is still active after over 30 years. Other notable and outstanding musicians are bands such as The Tragically Hip and The Tea Party which broke up in 2005 and was known for its diverse middle-eastern and Indian influences and variety of musical styles.

The Guess Who

The decks stacked as they were against Canadian artists building successful long-term careers, the Expressions wanted radio stations and record buyers to believe they were a British Merseybeat band in disguise. So when they released their debut album, it didn't bear their own name — instead, it was labelled "Guess", And record executive was confused by this, so he put down "Guess Who?" as a joke, and then it became the band's permanent name.

The ruse worked, and within a few years The Guess Who were one of Canada's biggest musical names. To this day, their best-known songs ("American Woman", "Share the Land", "These Eyes", etc.) remain among Canada's most enduring classic rock anthems.

Music of Specific Canadian Cultures

Canadian folk music includes Acadian, Québécois, English, Irish, Scottish and First Nations and Inuit forms, as well as other genres from immigrant communities representing Vietnam, Haiti, India, China, and other countries.

French-Canadian music

French settlers brought music with them when inhabiting what is now Quebec and other areas throughout Canada. Since the arrival of French music in Canada, there has been much intermixing with the Celtic music of Anglo-Canada. French-Canadian folk music is generally performed to accompany dances like the jig, jeux dansé, ronde, cotillion, and quadrille. The fiddle is a very common instrument, played by virtuosos like Jean Carignan, Jos Bouchard, and Joseph Allard. Other instruments include the German diatonic accordion, played by the likes of Philippe Bruneau and Alfred Montmarquette, spoons, bones, and Jew's harps.

Quebec music

French immigrants to Quebec established their musical forms in the future province, but there was no scholarly study until Ernest Gagnon's 1865 collection of 100 folk songs. In 1967, Radio-Canada released The Centennial Collection of Canadian Folk Songs (much of which was focused on French-Canadian music), which helped launch a revival of Quebec folk. Singers like Yves Albert, Edith Butler, and, especially, Félix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault, helped lead the way. The 1970s saw purists like La Rêve du Diable and La Bottine Souriante continued the trend. As Quebec folk continued to gain in popularity, artists like Harmonium, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jim Corcoran, Bertrand Gosselin, and Paul Piché found a mainstream audience.

Since 1979, Quebec music artists have been recognized with the Felix Award.

Maritime music

The Music of Canada's Maritimes has included many artists from both the traditional and pop genres.

The traditional genre is heavily influenced by the music brought to the region by the European settlers, the most well known of which are the Scots & Irish celtic and Acadian traditions. Folk songs are those passed on orally, usually composed by unknown persons. In the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island), sea shanties are widespread among the whaling and fishing workers. The lumber camps of New Brunswick have also produced their own body of folk songs. Irish and Scottish settlers in the eastern provinces of Canada brought traditions of fiddling and other forms of music. Having declined in popularity during the 20th century, a revival of Maritime traditional inspired music began in the late 1970s, lead by artists such as John Allan Cameron and Stan Rogers and later, the The Rankins, Mary Jane Lamond, Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, Barra MacNeils, and Barachois.

Successful pop acts from all genres have had degrees of national and international success since the beginning of recorded music period. Performers as diverse as Hank Snow, Anne Murray, Matt Minglewood and April Wine have all experienced tremendous success as popular music acts with considerable national and international tours and record sales. Since the 1990s, bands such as Sloan, Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays and Buck 65 have made a considerable impact.

Newfoundland music

Anglo-Canadian folk ballads are particularly well-preserved in Newfoundland. The widespread "Barbara Allen" is found in dozens of variations, as are songs like "The Farmer's Curst Wife", "Lord Randall", and "The Sweet Trinity". With the advent of printing, broadside ballads were found throughout Canada, many of them Anglo songs telling sad songs about unfulfilled love. In addition to the influence of English West Country folk music and sea shanties, Newfoundland music heavily incorporates themes from Irish music, with elements of the provinces French and Portuguese history also represented.

As with the Maritime provinces, contemporary artists were the catalyst for a revival of interest in traditional music. Great Big Sea, Figgy Duff and Irish Descendants carried the traditional sounds of Newfoundland across Canada and around the world. The most popular being Great Big Sea.

Western Canada

Among the lumber camps of Ontario and British Columbia, and among the homesteaders and farmers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, Anglo settlers adopted numerous American songs. "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie", for example, and the song known as "Prairie Land", "Saskatchewan" or "Alberta Land", which is adapted from an American song called "Beulah Land".

First Nations

The native peoples of Canada are of a number of diverse ethnic groups, each of which have their own musical traditions. There are some general similarities, however. Music is usually social (public) or ceremonial (private). Public, social music may be dance music accompanied by rattles and drums. Private, ceremonial music includes vocal songs with accompaniment on percussion, used to mark occasions like Midewivin ceremonies and Sun Dances.

Folk songs may be written by an individual, or they may be passed on from generation to generation, said to have been received through a vision or dream. These songs generally have one melody, which may be performed by an individual or a group.

Instruments include drums, rattles and flutes, constructed from natural objects.

Powwows are a common part of native music today. These are meetings and intertribal celebrations of music, dance and culture. The musical traditions of powwows draw on those adapted from the Plains Nations.

Few First Nations bands have gone mainstream in Canada. Arguably, the band that became the most popular was Kashtin, a duo that released their self-titled debut in 1989 an album that would eventually go double platinum despite that all the songs were in the band's native language, Innu.

Inuit music

Approximately 25,000 Inuit live in Northern Canada, primarily spread across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavik (northern Quebec). Prior to European contact, Inuit music was based around drums but has since grown to include fiddles and accordions. Music was dance-oriented and requested luck in hunting, gambling, or weather, and only rarely, if ever, expressing traditional purposes like love or specialized forms like work songs and lullabies. In the 20th century, Inuit music was influenced by Scottish and Irish sailors, as well as, most influentially, American country music. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has long been recording Inuit music, beginning with a station in Iqaluit in 1961. Accordion players like Charlie Panigoniak and Simeonie Keenainak quickly found an audience, with the latter notably incorporating musical influences like polkas and jigs from Quebec and Newfoundland.

Throat singing has become well-known as a curiosity. In katajjaq, female singers produce melodies from deep in their throats. A pair of singers stare at each other in a sort of contest. Common in Northern Quebec and Baffin Island, katajjaq singers perform in sync with each other, so that is producing a strong accent while the other is producing a weak one. The contest ends when one singer begins laughing, runs out of breath or the pair's voices become simultaneous. To some extent, young Inuit have revitalized the genre, and musicians like Tudjaat have even incorporated pop structures.

Other immigrant communities

Montreal's large immigrant communities include artists like Zekuhl (a band consisting of a Mexican, Chilean and a Quebecer raised in Cameroon), Karen Young, Eval Manigat (Haiti), and Lorraine Klaasen (South Africa), while Toronto has a large Balkan and Turkish community that has produced, most famously, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and Staro Selo, alongside Punjabi by Nature, who incorporate bhangra, rock, dub, and English Punjabi pop, and the Afro-Nubians, who included musicians from across North America, Europe and Africa. Outside of these major cities, important artists include Uzume-Taiko and Silk Road Music from Vancouver and Finjan from Winnipeg.

Caribbean music

The history of Caribbean music in Canada started in 1967, with Toronto's first annual Caribana festival. By the year 2000, Canada began to develop itself as a new pole in the Caribbean music industry. This is especially true of the genres Soca and Calypso. The recent changes in Canada's immigration laws have seen several prominent music artistes from the Commonwealth Caribbean like David Rudder and Anslem Douglas resettle with their family to Canada and developed a burgeoning Caribbean music industry based in Canada.

This trend has also been reinforced by a decrease of the industry in the New York City area, mainly spurred by factors like the rebranding of the 30+ year old Caribbean radio station WLIB 1090-AM by Inner City Broadcasting Corporation in 2004. The ICB rebranding was a tremendous setback to the Caribbean community and in an essence splintered the Caribbean music industry again across the New York City metropolitan area. In Canada, station's like Flow FM and CHIN, both located in Toronto, Ontario have served to bind the Caribbean music industry with their regularly rotated scheduling for Soca and Calypso music. During this time several of the leading Caribbean music DJs industry (which just happen to be based in Ontario) take to the air and launch several new songs or mixes. Some song mixes have been entered for various Caribbean Carnivals back in the Caribbean region and have created awareness in the Caribbean of new Soca and Calypso talent based in Canada.

Patriotic Canadian songs

Following is a list of popular patriotic songs in Canada.

Music awards

Canada has many different music awards, both for different genres of music and for geographic regions. Some of these that feature rock artists include:

See also

Further reading

  • Foran, Charles. "No More Solitudes". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 350-361. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Fowke, Edith (ed), The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs 1973

External links

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