Laura is deeply missed by all who knew and worked with her, along with thousands that loved her music. In 2019, Laura initiated a recording project that would be a “best of” album to showcase songs from her earlier work. Laura was diagnosed with inoperable cancer that winter and the project took on an urgency and a wider scope. Undeterred by her illness, Laura booked studio time in her hometown of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia to record two new songs. She garnered the strength to record the new material just a few weeks before her death.
Archival material from her coffee house days in London, Ontario, an amazing jazz session in Hamilton, a demo session in Toronto, along with the new songs – and fan-favourites – make up As Long As I’m Dreaming an 18-song package that features Laura’s artwork and poetry.
Laura Smith has left us with a body of work that will be treasured for years.
Born and raised in London, Ontario, Laura Smith grew up loving horses, theatre and poetry. As a teenager, she found comfort in the voices of Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles and Paul Simon, to name a few. She began to play music at age 19, first teaching herself piano chords, then guitar. Her public debut performance occurred at Smale’s Pace, the coffee house where she worked as a waitress, when she was invited on stage to sing a song with the headlining act. Around that time, she was writing poetry and, through a friend, met Governor General Award-winning poet, Margaret Avison, then writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario. “She was very encouraging,”recalls Smith. “Each time I went to visit her, I read a poem and she told me I was a wonderful writer. It was informal, but she affected me.”
Smith moved to Toronto in 1975, staying for ten years before a definitive move to Cape Breton in 1984. The rugged landscape, shifting ocean, moon-filled nights and welcoming community made her feel she had come home. “I was very fortunate to be let into that deep culture,” she says. Playing at ceilidhs, she blossomed in the nurturing atmosphere, not only with her music, but also on stage with a local theatre group. She moved to Halifax four years later, and thanks to support from CBC, she recorded her first, self-titled album in 1989. Baby career steps turned to self-confident strides when she recorded b’tween the earth and my soul in 1995 at the St. Mary’s University Art Gallery. The stunning result ignited a blaze of radio and television appearances, a tour and a plethora of special performances.
In 1996, she won two East Coast Music Awards (Female Artist, Album of the Year) and two Juno nominations (for Best New Solo Artist and Best Roots and Traditional Album). In 1997, she won a Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Performing Arts Program or Series. At the request of CBC radio personality, Peter Gzowski, who was receiving a Governor’s General Award, she performed “My Bonny” at the prestigious Ottawa ceremony. Her heartbreaking adaptation of the Scottish chestnut, on b’tween the earth and my soul, had haunted the broadcast host since he first heard it. Of the evening, she recalls, “It will always stand as one of the great honours of my career.” She went on to record “My Bonny” with The Chieftains on their “Fire in the Kitchen” album and she was awarded Song of the Decade by Live Ireland for that rendition. She also released her third album, It’s A Personal Thing that year to six ECMA nominations.
In May 2003, Laura received an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from Mount Saint Vincent University on the strength of her songwriting. This was followed with an opportunity to perform the role of “Marilla” in Anne and Gilbert, the Musical during the summers of 2005 and 2006.
In 2013 Laura triumphantly emerged from the studio with “Everything Is Moving”
The new album was produced by Laura and Paul Mills and featured a mix of original and Celtic traditional songs. Among the musicians accompanying Laura were famed Celtic guitarist Tony McManus, pianist John Sheard, bassist David Woodhead and Guido Basso on flugelhorn.
The critics were knocked out.
Another fRoots CD review pile, another name unknown to me …firing up the player without really looking, when Laura Smith started singing on the opening Lonely Waterloo it had a
similar effect as on the first time ever I heard Stan Rogers sing: everything came to a dead stop while the small hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention. A few seconds later as the brain restarted, I wondered why on earth I’d never heard of this singer before …a warm but serious lived-in contralto full of strength, experience and emotion that wraps itself round you and urges you to listen more closely. – Bob Walton, fRoots Magazine