Half English, three-eighths French, and one-eighth Aboriginal (Abenaki), Marie-Lynn Hammond embodies the messy amalgam that is Canada, and she writes and sounds like no one else. Still wondering what to be when she grows up, she’s also a playwright, writer, editor, former broadcaster. An air force brat, she grew up in such diverse places as Edmonton, AB; North Bay, ON; Chénéville, PQ; and Purley, England. Despite two tone-deaf parents and a pathological inability to master musical notation, she began making up songs at 13 and has never really stopped.
As a songwriter, her range, in both French and English, is memorable: Marie-Lynn aims for your heart, your mind and your funny bone. Finely crafted, filled with memorable images and often tackling unusual topics, her lyrics move or amuse while her voice and melodies beguile. From the anthem-like “La tête anglaise, le coeur français” and “Elsie,” a poignant ballad about her grandmother, to the satirical wit of “Not Another Benefit” or “Leave Room for the Holy Ghost,” she isn’t afraid to be personal—or provocative. Her body of work—the songs, the plays and more than fifty articles and radio essays—all provide fascinating vignettes of Canadian life as seen through her sharp yet compassionate eyes.
A veteran of the Canadian music scene, Marie-Lynn, along with Bob Bossin, co-founded the seminal (and irreverent) Canadian folk group Stringband in 1971. From Tuktoyaktuk to Thunder Bay and from Salmon Arm to Lunenberg, Stringband tirelessly criss-crossed Canada, with forays into Japan, Mexico, France, Great Britain, the former Soviet Union and the USA. In 2001, Stringband’s 30th anniversary was marked by two reunion shows on Stuart McLean’s CBC popular radio show, The Vinyl Café.
Music and Beyond
By 1978 Marie-Lynn had established a parallel solo career as a noted singer-songwriter. In the early ’80s her songs about her family grew into a musical play, Beautiful Deeds/De beaux gestes, that has received several productions and critical acclaim. She’s written or co-written four more plays and a screenplay (all produced), and has hosted two national radio shows for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
After putting out four solo recordings, she more or less withdrew from the music scene until 1999, when her music was discovered by a then Los Angeles-area folk fan, Richard Hess. He founded Vignettes Media to release Marie-Lynn’s previous music on CD. Vignettes Media went on to release a new recording, Pegasus, in 2003. And then, not long after, Marie-Lynn seemed to disappear again.
Not (Just) Another Benefit
What happened was this: Marie-Lynn moved from Toronto to a small town northeast of the city. Less than a year after the move, a freak horseback accident left her with broken bones and a brain injury that resulted in a permanent visual disability. Shortly after, a benefit night was organized, which sold out so fast a second night was added and also sold out. (Her satirical song, "Not Another Benefit," about playing free for an endless string of worthy causes, became the theme of the night.) Musical compatriots, including Sylvia Tyson, Jian Ghomeshi, Nancy White, Garnett Rogers and Connie Kaldor, eagerly volunteered to perform. “It was amazing,” says Marie-Lynn. “They all said such nice things about me, it was like getting to attend your own funeral, only with more laughs!”
To the Present
After a lengthy recovery and a long creative dry spell, Marie-Lynn found herself writing songs once more—so much so that she’s planning not one, but two new CDs, including one entirely of horse songs. Because despite the accident, Marie-Lynn says, “Horses, and animals in general, remain my greatest passion outside of music. They’ve been the single most powerful therapeutic force in my life.”
These days, Marie-Lynn Hammond continues to perform as well as working as a writer and editor, and currently lives with far too many rescued (but therapeutic) cats.