Uniquely talented, Juno-Award-winning Central Alberta blues-folk musician Bill Bourne has died after a lengthy cancer battle. He was 68 years old.
His family put out a statement Saturday: “To Bill’s music family around the world, it is with sadness and relief that we announce that Bill passed on this morning. He was surrounded by family and love and went peacefully and gratefully into whatever is next.”
News of Bourne’s death was greeted with a sad outpouring on social media. Those who knew the multi-talented artist personally shared stories going back some 40 years, when Bourne played sets in the basement of the old Grenada Inn in Red Deer.
“There are holes in my heart where the winds blow through, the places you used to be,” wrote Lyle Keewatin Richards, of Red Deer. Bourne’s song about a lonesome Ole Buffalo, resonated so strongly with Richards that he once held a sweetgrass ceremony in the old farmhouse where Bourne grew up, near Innisfail.
Mike Bradford, a music promoter with the Central Alberta Music Festival Society, called Bourne a true artist. “He was incredibly inventive. He would always push the envelope… using different elements, different genres in his music” so that every album was different than the last.
Bradford added Bourne was not only a great poet/songwriter who could play a multitude of stringed instruments but could also used his voice to perform scat. “He was at the core an incredible individual. He was always himself, and was all about peace and love.”
Bourne, a descendant of celebrated Icelandic poet Stephan Stephansson of Markerville, was raised in a musical family in central Alberta. He most recently resided in Edmonton.
The performer who toured internationally won a Juno Award in 1991, as a duo with bagpiper Alan MacLeod on the critically lauded album Dance and Celebrate. He also racked up two more Junos — as part of the trio Tri-Continental in 2001 and with various artists on the compilation album Saturday Night Blues in 1992 — as well as multiple other nominations.
In 2020, Bourne was diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer. According to a GoFundMe page started by his daughter Emily, his kidneys began to fail due to an obstruction last year. He survived through medical intervention, but was experiencing chronic pain and fatigue, and was unable to perform before he died.
Over the years, the musician, who became known for his long hair and top hat, had been a member of many bands and collectives, including Tri-Continental (with Madagascar Slim and Lester Quitzau), the Free Radio Dance Band (with his son, Pat Bourne), the Amoeba Collective, and the Scottish group the Tannahill Weavers. His most recent recording was A Love Fandango from 2020.
Among his various other albums was a meditation/party record and gypsy-influenced music. His record Bluesland, featured The Free Radio Band. Bourne also recorded with Jasmine Ohlhauser and Wyckham Porteous as the Bop Ensemble.
Bourne’s collaboration with Eivør Pálsdóttir from the Faroe Islands, the CD eivør, won two Danish Music Awards in 2006.