Kate and Anna McGarrigle | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Kate and Anna McGarrigle

Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Folksingers and songwriters. Born of French-Canadian and Irish parents in Montreal, the sisters Anna (b 4 Dec 1944) and Kate (b 6 Feb 1946, d 18 Jan 2010, B SC McGill 1969) studied music at the local convent.

McGarrigle, Kate and Anna

Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Folksingers and songwriters. Born of French-Canadian and Irish parents in Montreal, the sisters Anna (b 4 Dec 1944) and Kate (b 6 Feb 1946, d 18 Jan 2010, B SC McGill 1969) studied music at the local convent. Anna later attended L'École des Beaux-Arts; Kate studied math and engineering. Both sang in English and French and played piano, guitar, banjo, and button accordion. They sang 1963-7 in Montreal coffeehouses with the Mountain City Four, a folk group completed by Jack Nissenson and Peter Weldon, and in the early 1970s they attracted attention in the USA as songwriters. Anna's 'Heart Like a Wheel' was recorded in 1972 by McKendree Spring and, as the title song of an LP, in 1975 by Linda Ronstadt; Anna's 'Work Song' and Kate's 'Cool River' and 'Lying Song' were included on LPs by Maria Muldaur in this same period. Over the years the McGarrigles' songs also have been recorded by Judy Collins, Marianne Faithful, Emmylou Harris, Nana Mouskouri, and others.

In 1975 the sisters made their first LP, Kate and Anna McGarrigle (Warner BS-2862), which brought them critical notice and concert engagements internationally. After their London debut 25 Jul 1976 at Victoria Palace, Michael Watts in Melody Maker (31 Jul 1976) called their music 'a holy marriage of strong sentiment and brilliant, pure singing ... Anna's, lilting and airy, Kate's, deeper and fiercer - these are amongst the very best voices to be heard in popular music today.' The McGarrigles returned to Europe the following year but generally maintained a sporadic touring schedule.

They made two more LPs in the late 1970s, Dancer with Bruised Knees (Warner BS-3014) and Pronto Monto (Warner BSK-1248). An album of French songs written in collaboration with Philippe Tatartcheff, Entre la jeunesse et la sagesse (Kébec-Disc KD-990), was issued in 1981, and a fourth album, Love Over and Over (Poly 2424-240), followed in 1982. During a recording hiatus of several years they wrote music for film (Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller, 1988) and TV, and continued to give concerts intermittently in Canada, the USA, and Europe. They toured in Australia and New Zealand in 1985 and also performed in Hong Kong. A sixth album, the melancholic Heartbeats Accelerating (Private 2070, CD and cass), was released in 1990. Its title track was a hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1993. Two later albums, Matapedia (Hannibal HNCD 1394) and The McGarrigle Hour (Hannibal HNCD 1417), won Juno awards in 1997 and 1999 respectively.

The McGarrigles have mixed freely the folk traditions of the USA and of English and French Canada. In addition to their own material (of which 'Kiss and Say Goodbye,' 'Mendocino,' 'Love Over and Over', and 'Love Is' were popular titles) they also recorded traditional songs and titles by Wade Hemsworth, Stephen Foster, and Loudon Wainwright III (formerly Kate's husband). Their version of Hemsworth's 'The Log Driver's Waltz' was used for an animated NFB short of the same name in 1978. The McGarrigles themselves were the subject of an NFB documentary, Kate and Anne McGarrigle, in 1982.

Although periods of several years continued to elapse between their own albums, the McGarrigles contributed their voices to recordings by The Chieftains, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, and Gilles Vigneault, as well as to the PBS compilation Songs of the Civil War, in the 1990s. As of 2003 they had performed across Canada, as well as at the NAC and Massey Hall, in New York and other US cities, and 1993-1995 in the UK.

Their concerts were typically informal, homey affairs in which the sisters were accompanied by an extended family of Montreal folk instrumentalists and singers who included, at various times, Pat Donaldson (bass guitar), Dane Lanken (trumpet), Jack Nissenson, Ken Pearson (keyboards), Chiam Tannenbaum (harmonica), and Joel Zifkin (violin). The McGarrigles' sister (and manager) Jane, Kate's son Rufus (by Loudon Wainwright), and other McGarrigle family members often contributed to their performances.

The sisters were invested with the Order of Canada (1994), and in 1999 received the Women of Originality Award. In 2006 they received SOCAN's lifetime achievement award.


Kate and Anna McGarrigle. HNCD 4401 Hannibal

Dancer with Bruised Knees. 1994. HNCD 4402 Hannibal

Matapedia. 1996. HNCD 1394 Hannibal

Love Over and Over. 1997. 422 841 101-2 Polydor

The McGarrigle Hour. 1998. HNCD 1417 Hannibal


The McGarrigle Hour. 1999. Rykodisc HNDVD 1447

Further Reading