Music of Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador is an Atlantic Canadian province with a folk musical heritage based on the Irish, English and Cornish traditions that were brought to its shores centuries ago. Though similar in its Celtic influence to neighbouring Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador is more Irish than Scottish, and has more elements imported from English and Cornish music than those provinces. Newfoundland music, while quite obviously Celtic and seafaring in its orientation, is in some cases quite easily identifiable as being specific to Newfoundland. Much of the region's music focuses on the strong seafaring tradition in the area, and includes sea shanties and other sailing songs. Some modern traditional musicians include Great Big Sea, The Ennis Sisters, Shanneyganock, and Ron Hynes.


A bone flute found at L'Anse Amour in Labrador is not the first evidence of the presence of music in Newfoundland and Labrador. At the time, native tribes (First Nations) lived in the area. Little is known of their musical heritage due to the lack of written records,. The Beothuk people are known to have sung and danced, though few details are known by modern historians. Inuit music, including percussion and so-called mouth-music, is still performed, although with modern influences. The Innu also maintain some historical musical practices.

England, Ireland and Scotland sent many settlers to eastern Canada, and they brought with them instrumental tunes, ballads and other musical traditions, which were passed down orally through the generations. During this time, traditional songs evolved, and some acquired new lyrics or melodies.

Marching and military bands were an important part of traditional Newfoundland and Labrador music. Youth groups like the Church Lads Brigade, fraternal organizations and other groups supported these bands.

Newfoundland's anthem "The Ode to Newfoundland", was composed by Governor Cavendish Boyle.

Christian music from Newfoundland and Labrador includes hymns and other liturgical music. Missionaries such as those with the Moravian Church used music to reach out towards native peoples, publishing a hymn book, for example, in Inuit in 1809.

During the 1800s, operas and musical theater became popular. Charles Hutton, for example, rose to fame during this period during the 1880s. Some of these musicians, like Georgina Stirling, became renowned in Europe. In the early 20th century, vaudeville took the place of opera in Newfoundland. Satirist John Burke was a noted vaudeville composer and performer of that era.

Outside Influences

Beginning in 1921, music from outside of the region became popular, especially after the advent of films with sound and the popularization of cowboy movies. Among the province's noted country musicians was Harry Martin.

During the 1920s and 1930s jazz and country music arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador, both through local dance bands, radio broadcasts and phonograph records. These outside musical influences were followed in the 1950s and 1960s by R&B and rock and roll.

Modern era

In the modern era, many people worked to preserve the province's musical heritage. They focused on traditional songs, but also popularized modern tunes in a traditional style, for example Otto Kelland's 1947 composition "Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary's". The first hit from a native performer was 1943's "Squid Jiggin' Ground" by Art Scammell. Radio programs such as Irene B. Mellon and The Big Six, the television shows All Around The Circle (1964) and Ryan's Fancy, collections such as Gerald S. Doyle's Old Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland, musicians including accordionists Ray Walsh, Wilf Doyle, Omar Blondahl, John White and the McNulty family (musicians), and scholars including Maud Karpeles also contributed to the preservation of Newfoundland and Labrador music. Expatriates in Ontario, for example Harry Hibbs and Dick Nolan also became well-known. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a roots revival led by the bands Ryan's Fancy, Figgy Duff and The Wonderful Grand Band achieved mainstream success in Newfoundland. Other traditional performers to rise to prominence in this period included Anita Best, Kelly Russell, Jim Payne, Émile Benoît, Rufus Guinchard, The Bay Boys and Minnie White.

In the 1980s and 1990s, traditional Newfoundland music's popularity dwindled, though rock, punk, heavy metal, blues and other styles developed their own scenes in the region. The Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra rose to prominence in this period, and jazz performers such as the Jeff Johnston Trio also gained international renown. In the early 1990s, Young Saints and Thomas Trio and the Red Albino became the first mainstream popular music bands from the province to attract wider extraprovincial attention.

The exception to this decline in traditional music's popularity was the Belloram-based group Simani, composed of Bud Davidge and Sim Savory. They recorded a total of 12 albums from 1977 to 1997 and enjoyed great success throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

The advent of the East Coast Music Awards helped stimulate the Atlantic Canadian music scene, and was accompanied by the rise of Ron Hynes, Buddy Wasisname, The Irish Descendants, Thomas Trio and The Red Albino, while Great Big Sea, The Navigators, and The Punters have also become well known for their mixture of traditional and popular music. A resurgence of traditional Newfoundland music is evidenced by the creation of several popular compilation CDs such as The Christmas Wish: Newfoundland Yuletide Favourites, the Downhomer Presents... series, and the Homebrew series (which has sold over 50,000 copies).

In 2008, the Atlantis Music Prize was established by The Scope, and is to be awarded annually to the best new album from Newfoundland and Labrador. The first winning album was Another Month by Mercy, the Sexton. In the late 2000s, the local rap group Gazeebow Unit was noted for its use, whether parodic or metaparodic, of Newfoundland English in rap music.[1][2]

Notable newcomers bringing national and international recognition to the province include Hey Rosetta!, Amelia Curran, The Mountains & the Trees, Sherman Downey, Adam Baxter, Andrew James O'Brian, Don Brownrigg, Damhnait Doyle and The Novaks.

Noted Musicians

Modern Newfoundland & Labrador musicians include Hey Rosetta!, Harry Martin, as well as folk group The Flummies, Byron "Fiddler" Chaulk, rock musician David Penashue of Tipatchimun (who sings Innu language rock), Canadian folk-rock band Great Big Sea, and a Canadian a folk trio The Once

See also


  1. Clarke, Sandra (1 April 2010). Newfoundland and Labrador English. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 137–. ISBN 978-0-7486-2617-5. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  2. Terkourafi, Marina (22 September 2010). The Languages of Global Hip Hop. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 234–. ISBN 978-0-8264-3160-8. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
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