Rita Chiarelli. Singer, guitarist, songwriter, b Hamilton, Ont, 1950 or 1954? By 15, Rita Chiarelli was singing blues with a local Hamilton band; after high school, she toured with Battleaxe, her nine-piece rhythm-and-blues band. She joined veteran rocker Ronnie Hawkins for one year in 1974 and then left Canada in 1982 for Italy, where she worked as a studio vocalist. Chiarelli's return to Canada in 1987 coincided with the peak of the independent music scene centred around Toronto's Queen Street West. The placement of her first single, "Have You Seen My Shoes?" in Bruce McDonald's film Roadkill greatly boosted her profile and established her as a popular attraction on North America's blues circuit.
Rita Chiarelli recorded her debut album Road Rockets (1992) for Stony Plain Records. With Colin Linden she recorded a version of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" for McDonald's follow-up film, Highway 61. She released Just Gettin' Started in 1995 and a live recording, What a Night, in 1997, both for Stony Plain. In 2001 she released Breakfast at Midnight (Northern Blues), a collection of 11 original songs that spanned her broad range of musical influences. She returned to the blues for No One to Blame (2004, released on her own Mad Iris label) and recorded Cuore: The Italian Sessions, an album of Italian folksongs, at a concert in Thunder Bay, Ont, in 2006.
Chiarelli has won several Maple Blues Awards, including the lifetime achievement award in 2011, as well as CBC Radio's Great Canadian Blues Award, and a 1988 Toronto Music Award. Her powerful, textured voice inevitably draws comparisons to Bonnie Raitt and Melissa Etheridge.
"Portrait of the singer as life-long blueswoman," Toronto Star, 30 Nov 1996