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Folk Singer Kate McGarrigle Dies At 63
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Folk Singer Kate McGarrigle Dies At 63
Folk Singer Kate McGarrigle Dies At 63
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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Finally this hour, an appreciation of folk singer and songwriter Kate McGarrigle. She died last night in Montreal of cancer, at age 63. Kate McGarrigle may be best remembered by an older generation as one-half of the McGarrigle Sisters. For younger listeners, she's known as the mother of two contemporary musicians, Martha and Rufus Wainwright.

NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

(Soundbite of music)

NEDA ULABY: Kate McGarrigle came from one of those rare families that actually sing at home.

(Soundbite of song, "My Town")

Ms. KATE MCGARRIGLE (Musician): (Singing) When I awake, I think of you.

ULABY: The French-Canadian sisters with the distinctive last name tapped into a deep vein of folk music, running north up the range of the Appalachians past the New Brunswick-Quebec border.

In 1996, Kate McGarrigle told NPR about the mountainous village where she grew up.

Ms. MCGARRIGLE: This is way up in the northeast corner of Quebec, just at the tip of Maine. And it has like, railway tracks and kind of evergreens and cliffs and rushing rivers.

(Soundbite of song, "Matapedia")

Ms. MCGARRIGLE: (Singing) Once upon a time two kids in love in a car were flying over mountains trying to catch a boat that'd take them up river to home.

ULABY: Kate McGarrigle drew on the drama of the natural environment in her music, but also on the drama of family life. She and her sister Anna left the Montreal folk scene after Kate met and married Loudon Wainwright III. He inspired some of the songs on the sisters' first album, like the one about when he left.

(Soundbite of song, "Go Leave")

Ms. MCGARRIGLE: (Singing) Go leave, she's better than me. Or at least she is stronger.

Ms. SARAH LISS (Arts Producer, Canadian Broadcasting Corp.): They're just so honest and so frank. There's a kind of candor in their songs.

ULABY: Sarah Liss is an arts producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. And like a lot of younger Canadians, she really got to know Kate McGarrigle through the music of her two children, Martha and Rufus Wainwright.

Ms. LISS: Their love and their admiration for their mother is so tremendous and so profound.

ULABY: Mothering was far more important to Kate McGarrigle than a musical career. The story goes, she once blew off an important concert promoter to take her kids to a puppet show.

For the sisters, music was the antithesis of business. Even though Melody Maker magazine called the McGarrigle Sisters' debut the best album of 1976, Kate McGarrigle ultimately produced less than a dozen records. Still, she inspired her kids to make music about her, says Sarah Liss, like one song by Martha Wainwright.

Ms. LISS: "In the Middle of the Night." It's a big, swooping song with huge, dramatic riffs and kind of caterwauling vocals, and it's a song about her mother's struggle with cancer.

(Soundbite of song, "In the Middle of the Night")

Ms. MARTHA WAINWRIGHT (Singing) In the middle of the night comes a knockin' at my door.

ULABY: Martha frequently performed with her mother, as did Rufus Wainwright. Here's how he described singing with her in an interview today.

Mr. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (Musician): Formidable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: It was always very professional, even when we were 4.

ULABY: Rufus Wainwright says his mother died peacefully.

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: It was really fantastic. I mean, of course I wish it hadn't have happened, but she did die at home.

ULABY: Surrounded by family and dear friends.

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: And my dad was there. We got to sing a lot of songs. And she really responded to some of them she liked, some of them she didn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: You could tell how deeply music was in his mother's life, says Rufus Wainwright, by how it reached into her hazy state and grabbed her soul and gave her joy.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Go Leave")

Ms. MCGARRIGLE: (Singing) When I'm gone. When I'm gone. When I'm gone. When I'm gone, when I'm gone. Oh, when I'm gone, when I'm gone.

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