#2: Flying On Your Own by Rita MacNeil

City: Halifax, NS
Radio Station: CJCH
Peak Month: January 1987
Peak Position in Halifax ~ #1
Peak position in Vancouver ~did not chart
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube: “Flying On Your Own
Lyrics: “Flying On Your Own

Rita MacNeil was born in Big Pond, Nova Scotia, in 1944. Her family moved to Toronto for some years before returning to Cape Breton. In 196o she moved from Cape Breton to Toronto and worked for a summer at Eaton’s, in the Customer Account Services Department. This was the store where her mother worked for awhile in the 1950s. By 1964, MacNeil had begun taking voice lessons. In 1965, she dated a man from Sicily and got pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter and in the following years she battled issues with her weight – ranging between 119 and 183 pounds. She got married in 1970 and had a second child. But that marriage ended in divorce, and by 1979 she was a single-parent on welfare.

Rita MacNeil wrote her first song in 1972, titled “Born A Woman”, and in 1975 released an album in support of women’s rights titled Born A Woman. In 1979, she performed at events in Sydney marking International Women’s Day. At the time, the RCMP were spying on Rita MacNeil and other feminists.

MacNeil wrote a song about coal miners titled “Working Man”. It was recorded on her second studio album, Part of the Mystery, in 1981. She began performing on occasion with Men of the Deeps, who sang “Working Man” with her also in the recording studio. A third album, I’m Not What I Seem, was released in 1982. Little by little, Rita MacNeil’s fan base grew.

But a turning point was her performances at Expo ’86 in Vancouver. She told the Vancouver sun, “I was on cloud nine when I discovered the first show was sold out, 350 people were in the audience and…the audience stayed…People wanted to listen to the music.” The paper said, “for God’s sake, you must hear Rita MacNeil. See her at Expo this month so you can talk knowledgeably when she becomes a star.” (I remember hearing her in concert in Vancouver in 1986. It was wonderful!).

In 1987, she released Flying On Your Own, and received a Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist.

Flying On Your Own by Rita MacNeil
“Fying On Your Own” was written by Rita MacNeil. The song has a universal message for anyone who is single after the breakup of a relationship. But it’s also based on her own reflections about her own life after the breakup of her marriage in the late 70s: “You were never more strong girl. You were never more alone. Once there was two, now it’s just you, you’re flying on your own.” As she made her way forward from her divorce, with her two children in tow, MacNeil was able to realize: “First you stumble, then you fall, you reach out and you fly. There isn’t anything that you can’t do.”

“Flying On Your Own” peaked at #1 in Halifax (NS) and #3 in Sydney (NS). On the national RPM pop chart in Canada, “Flying On Your Own” reached #42.

In 1988, Rita MacNeil released a fifth studio album titled Reason To Believe. That year she received three Juno Award nominations for Best Female Vocalist, Composer of the Year, and Album of the Year. That year her recording of “Working Man” climbed to #11 on the UK Singles chart. She charted again on the RPM Pop singles chart in 1988 with “Walk On Through”, and in 1989 with “We’ll Reach the Sky Tonight”.

She kept on releasing new albums as her celebrity grew: Both Now the Bell Rings (1988) and Rita (1989) received Album of the Year nominations at the 1990 Juno Awards, and MacNeil also received nominations for Best Country Female Vocalist, and won in the Best Female Vocalist category. In 1990 she released the album, Home I’ll Be. In 1991, she received a Juno Award nomination for the album, a second nomination for Best Female Vocalist, and won in the Best Country Female Vocalist category. These successes followed with releases of Thinking of You (1992), Once Upon A Christmas (1993), Porch Songs (1995), and Music of a Thousand Nights (1997). And at the Juno Awards she received four more nominations in the Best Female Vocalist category from 1993 to 1996.

In 1991 she was invited to play at Royal Albert Hall in England. There were honourary doctorates from five Canadian Universities. In 1992, she was inducted into the Order of Canada. Her 1993 CBC TV Christmas special, “Once Upon A Christmas,” drew 2 million viewers. MacNeil’s musical variety show Rita & Friends attracted 1 million viewers a week over three seasons. Rita & Friends ran from September 1994 to the spring of 1997. Before winning a Gemini Award in 1996, she had already received nominations for Best Performance or Host in a Variety Program or Series in both 1994 and 1995.

Rita’s Tea Room, a former school house turned into a restaurant in 1982 in Big Pond, began to take-off. From June to October visitors began arriving by the busload to enjoy a meal, buy Rita MacNeil souvenirs and sign the three-ringed binder that serves as a guest book.

In 2000, Flying On Her Own, a play based on MacNeil’s life and featuring many of her songs, premiered at Live Bait Theatre in Sackville, New Brunswick. MacNeil’s final concert tour was in December 2012, ‘Sharing Christmas: Rita MacNeil with Special Guest Frank Mills.’ Her last television appearance was December 6, 2012 on the CBC TV show George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. 

In April 2013, Rita MacNeil was reported to have died from complications after surgery. Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a reporter he was “Saddened to hear about the passing of one of Cape Breton and Canada’s finest voices, Rita MacNeil.” Later in April 2013, the Globe & Mail ran a story to clarify that “Rita MacNeil did not have hospital-acquired infection, health officials say.”

Between 1986 and 1996, Rita MacNeil’s eight studio albums netted sales for a) one triple-platinum for Now the Bells Ring, b) four double-platinum, c) two platinum, and d) one gold record. As well, Reason to Believe earned her platinum sales in Australia. While on the pop music album charts in Canada, dominated by rock ‘n roll and R&B recording acts, Rita MacNeil managed to chart two albums into the Top 20, two more into the Top 30, and two more into the Top 40 of the RPM Pop Album chart. Over the years, Rita MacNeil recorded 2o studio albums, her last being Saving Grace in 2012. She also released 22 singles, her last being “Rolling Thunder” in 1995 from her Porch Songs album.

In 2021, Rita MacNeil was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

About Rita,” ritamacneil.com.
Nick Patch, “Rita MacNeil dies at 68 after surgery; son says she had been planning summer concerts,” Toronto Star, April 17, 2013.
James Bradshaw,”Rita MacNeil did not have hospital-acquired infection, health officials say,” Globe & Mail, April 26, 2013.
Rita MacNeil, On A Personal Note, (Key Porter Books, 1998).
David Friend, “Singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil to be inducted into Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame,” Toronto Star, April 16, 2021.
Rita MacNeil, “Working Man“, EMI, 1989.
RCMP Spied on Rita MacNeil, feminists in 1970s,” CTV, August 4, 2008.

Flying On Your Own by Rita MacNeil

CJCH 920-AM Halifax (NS) Top Ten | January 8, 1987.

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Our Newsletter