A lady of conviction. In every way, Phyllis Sinclair is a lady of conviction. As if the musical mien of Joni Mitchell and the irrepressible human force of Nelson Mandela were corralled into the same heart, Phyllis Sinclair creates songs of dignity and change. Ethnically of the Canadian Cree tribe, or “Swampy Cree” as she jovially qualifies, and raised in deep poverty by a single mother in Winnipeg, her musical blend of folk, pop, and country seeks to encourage those who struggle with life and often places her in league with fellow messengers like Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Stan Rogers. Now three albums in to her recording career with a steady wave of critical acclaim raising her up, her mark on humanity has become deep and defined.
Having loved music since early childhood, Phyllis grew from a fascination with old time folk dances with spoons and boot-heels to complete enthrallment when a professional symphony orchestra performed at her inner city middle school. Times were extremely tough for her single-parent family surrounded by poverty and violence, but the shivers sent down her spine by the beauty of the sound opened a new vista and set a 13-year-old Phyllis off on a decade of learning to play guitar, write songs, and performing in coffee houses and churches. In her 20’s, however, motherhood took center stage, as did a professional career outside of music, and her guitar and tour schedule were replaced by the demands of parenting and her work as a radio Journalist and Host. It was not until 1998, following a move to Alberta, that she again picked up her guitar in earnest and made a full return to her creative passion.
The genuinely held beliefs that all people have the power within them to live a full and meaningful life, and that she truly is what she thinks, are latent in all of Phyllis’ music. Her debut album, Fence Post and Stones (released 2005) and the follow up Fathomless Tales from Leviathan’s Hole bear the stamp of her strong melodies, vivid imagery, and mild social content. A particularly strong thread running through her songs is her respect of all cultures, and her deep love of her own Aboriginal Cree Canadian background. In fact, she attributes her sound and style to her Cree Grandmother, who filled her childhood with gripping and desolate native folklore and sang to her in soft ululation.
The indelible impact of her Grandmother and Mother, both of whom were single mothers who made ends meet with a lifetime of washing the laundry of those more fortunate, is expressed most clearly on her latest release, Dreams of the Washerwomen. Paying tribute to these remarkable women, and all single parents, Dreams of the Washerwomen is replete with rich and compassionate songs borne of a swirling culmination of culture and struggle. The single “Another Single Day” focuses on the challenges of single parenting, and is meant to let single parents know that their unending efforts in raising their children are not in vain.
While her subject matter may tend towards the severe, her big toothy grin and sincerity keeps things in balance. Like all true storytellers, she shines brightest and is understood most fully when experienced in person, as evidenced by the fervent response of fans at her live shows. “You gotta see me to really appreciate me. I am real. I regard others as equals; not higher, or better, just different, with a unique gift to offer. The gift I bring is sincerity.” Indeed, and on her musical mission to open doors of understanding between people of different cultures and encourage those who struggle with life, her grin, her guitar, and her conviction are all being used to full and wonderful effect.