HALIFAX — As members of the East Coast musical community mourn the loss of singer Laura Smith, they’re also preparing a tribute to her life and music.
The 67-year-old musician died at her home in Mahone Bay, N.S., on Saturday after receiving palliative care for cancer.
Recording artist Bruce Guthro, who often included Smith in his songwriting circles, says artists from a variety of genres will gather on March 29 in Halifax at Casino Nova Scotia to perform a selection of songs that illustrate the poetic quality of her lyrics.
He originally hoped to organize the concert for Smith while she was alive, but Guthro says the show will proceed as planned to celebrate her work.
Smith was known for a warm voice, which reviewers have described as soulful, white hot and filled with wit.
Musical friends like Guthro say the tightly woven lyrics of songs like “Shade of Your Love,” “I Built a Boat” and “I’m a Beauty” will form an enduring legacy for Smith.
“She was an incredible songwriter and had a voice that suited her songs perfectly. It’s a huge loss,” he said in an interview.
Smith won the East Coast Music Award for best female artist and album in 1996 for “B’tween the Earth and My Soul,” and after a break in her career, returned to recording with “Everything is Moving” in 2013 under the Borealis label.
She ranged widely in styles, with elements of jazz, folk and blues in some of her work. Her rendition of the traditional Scottish folk son “My Bonnie” caught the ear of former CBC host Peter Gzowski, who requested it be sung when he received his Governor General’s award.
The songwriters she worked with and inspired gathered around her in the last months of her life, as she continued to work when she felt well enough.
Guthro and fellow musician Kim Dunn, Smith’s pianist, sang by her bedside three days before she died.
Dunn said in an interview that working with Smith in the last five years of her career meant he saw her performing in small rooms in very intimate moments.
“One woman became a lifelong friend because Laura went over to console her as she was weeping after one of her shows,” he said.
Born and raised in London, Ont., Smith began to write and sing her own material in a small cafe, but her career took root in the Maritimes after she moved to Cape Breton in 1984 and became part of the close-knit East Coast music world.
Dave Gunning, a Nova Scotia singer and songwriter who befriended Smith, said many musicians were saddened they didn’t get a chance to see her before she died.
He said the tribute will be a chance to celebrate her lyrics, as she was “a poet-songwriter who raised the bar for everybody.”
Gunning was asked to perform her never-recorded song, “Road to Glory,” and he sent Smith his recorded, demo version recently.
He said he’s moved by lyrics that run counter to a prevailing mood of divisiveness in the world, calling for people to seek inner peace ahead of outward blame.
“On the road to glory what is it you think you’ll find?/ If not what you carry in your heart and mind,” the lyrics read.
“In your heart and mind/ That’s where the seeds are sown/ For what you’ll find travelling down that road.”
Bill Garrett, managing partner of Borealis Records, said in an email the label is working on a compilation of her work, which is expected to include fresh work.
“It’s likely to be a CD of some of her best-loved material along with some new songs and maybe a few surprises as well.”