On a Personal Note


270 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55263-002-1
DDC 782.42162'0092





Reviewed by Desmond Maley

Desmond Maley is the music librarian at the J.W. Tate Library,
Huntington College, Laurentian University, and the editor of Newsletter
of the Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and
Documentation Centres.


Rita MacNeil unburdens herself in this rags-to-riches memoir. The Cape
Breton singer, who was the fifth in a Roman Catholic family of eight
children, had alcoholic parents and was sexually molested by an uncle.
As a young woman, McNeil also grappled with being a depressed,
pill-popping, overweight, divorced single parent, living on welfare. Her
salvation was her voice which, from the beginning, was a splendid
instrument. The singer’s discovery of feminism was a catalyst to her
song writing, giving her a political dimension that resulted in
appearances at women’s events and NDP conventions. After long years of
obscurity singing in pubs and at folk festivals, MacNeil scored a
triumph at Expo ’86 in Vancouver.

MacNeil is reflective and observant in discussing her early life. The
later part of the book chronicles her increasingly hectic concert tours,
a CBC television career, and the opening of a tearoom in her hometown of
Big Pond. She discusses her recordings and some of the musicians she
worked with. The narrative is interspersed with excerpts of her
straight-from-the-heart song lyrics that illustrate her life and music.
There is also interesting material on how her weight was the target of
caustic media commentary and humor that, to some extent, adversely
affected her career. All in all, this is a candid portrait that will
appeal especially to MacNeil’s fans.


MacNeil, Rita., “On a Personal Note,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/2560.