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Just a note, on the passing of Raylene Rankin.

I had the privilege to be a guest at the Cabot Trail Writers Festival this past weekend, and on the last day see a performance by noted songwriter Leon Dubinsky.  Leon is well known for composing the song “Rise Again,” famously sung by Raylene Rankin of the Rankin Family.  He played this song last in his set, as a tribute, for he had found out just that morning that Raylene had passed the night before.  It was cancer, as we had known she had for a long while.

The Rankins are from Mabou, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and as I mention often I too am from Mabou, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.  It is a small village surrounded by other small villages in a province flung so far east it is almost sitting in the ocean by itself.  Because of my age it is hard for me to remember a time before the Rankins had made a name for themselves in the music scene but they did, singing old songs and new songs and unbelievably, singing in Gaelic too, a language our grandfathers and grandmothers were punished in school for using.  And it seemed that after they had done it, music was just exploding out of Cape Breton and the Maritimes, with Natalie and Ashley and the Barra MacNeils and everyone else and their dog (as they say) who had a fiddle and a band and seemed to take to touring the world like it was just any other Saturday. I don’t know the full statistics but it wasn’t hard to see that the Rankins had an impact, even if I was 10 at the time.

Let me tell you what that meant to someone like me.  When you came into my town for many years you were greeted with a sign that said “Home of the Rankin Family” which was well enough for the casual visitor but it also said to any kid like me that “you can come from here, and there’s no reason you can’t do that too.”  Which might sound like a cheesy, Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul sort of thing, but when it’s not hard to find someone on the mainland for whom the name “Cape Breton” conjures up fearful images of shut-down coal mines, shut-down steel plants, shut-down pulp mills, fishing boats, pogey and welfare cheques, it does mean something, really mean something, to see that kind of success.  I never really thought about it until much later, but they had an enormous personal impact, on me for certain, and for many people my age from many places- not just our own home by any means.

You know, Raylene sang at my grandfather’s funeral, which my mother will proudly tell you.  Not because she’s proud to have hooked someone famous for the job, but because all the while, for all their success, the Rankins remained ever gracious, humble, lovely and part of the community that they came from.  They made you proud to have them on that sign.  They showed me how to be that person, though a comic artist is several leagues apart from a famous recording artist.  I hope, if I am fortunate enough to continue doing what I do, that I get to keep following that lead. 

I tell you, I’m glad this drawing thing worked out and all, but there was a time in the early 90’s when I’d have traded all that and my right leg to be able to sing like Raylene.  Ah, well.  You do what you can with what you got.

  1. shel1lby reblogged this from beatonna
  2. sophia-sol reblogged this from beatonna and added:
    I’m reblogging music I actually already know for a change! It is so sad to hear that Raylene Rankin has died. I’ve loved...
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  13. watchhowisoar reblogged this from watchhowisoar and added:
    I thought it was a nice addition to this conversation. I’ll think of Raylene this weekend as I drive though Mabou on my...
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  17. anoctobertale reblogged this from beatonna and added:
    From a fellow Nova Scotian, who has listened to the Rankins’ for as long as I can remember, I will remember Raylene...
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