Kelly Fraser, who sang popular Rihanna cover in Inuktitut, dies at 26

Kelly Fraser, who sang popular Rihanna cover in Inuktitut, dies at 26

TORONTO — Inuk singer-songwriter Kelly Fraser rose to popularity on YouTube with her cover of Rihanna’s Diamonds, but those who knew her say the Juno-nominated musician’s dreams of global fame were equalled by her determination to inspire other Indigenous youth.

The independent pop musician, who lived in Winnipeg, died earlier this week at 26, according to friends. The cause of her death has not been released.

Fraser was an ardent supporter of the Indigenous music community, and took every opportunity to amplify the voices of other creators, said Thor Simonsen, a music producer who worked alongside her as a co-founder of Nunavut Hitmakerz.

Their travelling mentorship project, which launched in 2016, provides workshops in Inuktitut and free recording equipment to underfunded communities in different regions. Fraser played an instrumental role in its creation, Simonsen said.

“Kelly was a ball of energy and passion,” he said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

“She loved her people more than anything else and her entire being was centred around trying to improve living conditions for Inuit and First Nations. She was such a giving person.”

The singer, who was raised in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, also carried her own musical ambitions, which took shape after she picked up a guitar at 11 and formed her first band four years later.

In high school, Fraser started translating English pop and rock songs into Inuktitut, picking the Runaway’s 1976 punk anthem “Cherry Bomb” as one of her first experiments. But it was her 2013 cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” that exposed her to many new listeners when it was shared widely among music fans and the Indigenous community on social media.

The video, which cobbled together footage of the singer, polar bears and the northern lights, has amassed more than 380,000 views. Its popularity inspired Fraser to revisit other English hits in the Inuit language, including the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Camila Cabello’s “Havana.”

“As a daughter to a residential school survivor I believe that keeping our language stronger will help my children, their children and so on,” Fraser told the CBC in an interview earlier this year.

“I want the young people to be inspired (so) that we can use our language however we want.”

It was Fraser’s sophomore album “Sedna” that garnered wider acclaim, earning her an Indigenous music album nod at the 2018 Juno Awards. She hoped the project, named after and inspired by the Inuit goddess of the sea, would inspire others who suffered from the lingering effects of residential schools and lost traditions.

Fraser’s approach to making Indigenous music stood in contrast to many of her contemporaries because it was firmly rooted at the crossroads of mainstream pop and Inuit influences. She cited Beyonce as one of her greatest inspirations.

Simonsen said the singer was ultimately ”a pop girl at heart” who aspired to worldwide fame.

“She wanted to be on the charts next to Rihanna and the pop stars, but she was also very rooted in her culture,” he said.

“She had such a love of Inuit drum dancing, throat singing and traditional songs… She wanted to express the stories and share the struggles that Inuit go through, making it palatable for an international audience.”

After winning the Indspire Award in 2019 for her impact on the music community earlier this year, Fraser planned to start recording her third album ”Decolonize” over the coming weeks in Toronto. The album was set to blend aspects of pop, hip-hop and rock music, and include several collaborations with other artists.

“She was the poster child of a young Inuk woman trying to rise above the challenges that are so commonplace in Nunavut and the Indigenous community,” Simonsen added.

A GoFundMe campaign to support her siblings was launched at: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/support-for-kelly-frasers-sisters

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Artists of all genres are encouraged to apply for a variety of awards and scholarships available through the Red Deer Arts Council. This mixed-media work, Shadow Man by Paul Boultbee, has shown at the Kiwanis Gallery, operated by the council. (Contributed image).
Red Deer-area artists can apply for various awards, scholarships by March 1

The Red Deer Arts Council seeks to encourage artistic development

People lineup at a hotel for the homeless before the 8 p.m. COVID-19 curfew on Jan. 11, 2021, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Legault nixes call for COVID-19 curfew exemption, saying it could used to avoid fines

Legault nixes call for COVID-19 curfew exemption, saying it could used to avoid fines

The body of 25-year-old Kyler Corriveau was discovered near Red Deer on Sunday. He was missing since Dec. 15. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contrinuted photo).
RCMP are investigating the death of missing Red Deer man as a homicide

The body of Kyler Corriveau was discovered on Sunday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 456 new cases of COVID-19 over Tuesday afternoon. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Community Futures Central Alberta, in partnership with the Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network (CARIN), is behind the SMARTstart initiative for budding entrepreneurs.
New program aimed at helping entrepreneurs succeed

Program offers mentorship, business advice and networking opportunities

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

Winnipeg Jets left wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) scores the game-winning goal past Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) during overtime in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ehlers scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets rally for 4-3 win over Ottawa Senators

Ehlers scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets rally for 4-3 win over Ottawa Senators

Canadian women's soccer team member Rhian Wilkinson is seen during a training session in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 21, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Former Canada Soccer coach Rhian Wilkinson joins England women’s coaching staff

Former Canada Soccer coach Rhian Wilkinson joins England women’s coaching staff

Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Premier League-Darren Goldstein **MANDATORY CREDIT**
CPL targets season kickoff on Victoria Day Weekend, providing authorities agree

CPL targets season kickoff on Victoria Day Weekend, providing authorities agree

United States forward Brianna Decker (14) and Canada forward Marie-Philip Poulin battle for the puck during first period of 2018 Four Nations Cup gold medal game in Saskatoon on November 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
Together at last, Canadian women’s hockey team reunites after pandemic separation

Together at last, Canadian women’s hockey team reunites after pandemic separation

Soldiers parade from Parliament Hill as they take part in the National Day of Honour in Ottawa on Friday, May 9, 2014. Canada’s veterans ombudsman is calling on the federal government reverse to restrictions on the provision of mental-health services for the families of retired military personnel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ombudsman slams new restrictions on mental-health support for veterans’ families

Ombudsman slams new restrictions on mental-health support for veterans’ families

FILE - John Mulaney arrives at night one of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles. A file obtained by The Associated Press shows the U.S. Secret Service investigated John Mulaney, but found no wrongdoing in a joke the comedian made on “Saturday Night Live” in February 2020. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
File details investigation into John Mulaney ‘SNL’ monologue

File details investigation into John Mulaney ‘SNL’ monologue

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, file photo, Tom Hanks arrives at the People's Choice Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Hanks will host a 90-minute primetime TV special celebrating the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the United States. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
From Gaga to Garth, Miranda to Moreno: Celebs join inaugural

Like so much this past year, the inaugural celebration will be like… Continue reading

A Honduran migrant poses for a photo at a road block manned by Guatemalan soldiers and police, on the highway in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Some migrants threw rocks while authorities launched tear gas and pushed the migrants with their riot shields back down the highway. (AP Photo/Sandra Sebastian)
Large migrant caravan dissolves in Guatemala

Large migrant caravan dissolves in Guatemala

Most Read