First lady of guitar

Liona Boyd celebrates her return to music with a new album and a new world tour. - Photo submitted
Liona Boyd celebrates her return to music with a new album and a new world tour.
— image credit: Photo submitted

When it came time for classical guitarist Liona Boyd to make a decision about her future, she faced a dilemma.

“Do I do English literature, which I loved or do I do music?” Boyd said. “I did music, which I am very happy about.”

Since that decision more than 30 years ago, Boyd released more than 20 albums and established herself as one of Canada’s most successful artists, often referred to as “The First Lady of the Guitar.”

“Who would have thought that when I started out as a guitar student in Toronto that my career would take me all over the world? I am very fortunate,” Boyd said.

Her musical adventure began when she was a young girl living in England. The Order of Canada recipient has played to presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, and even jurors during O.J. Simpson’s trial.

“I’ve been all over the world and had amazing adventures and meet all kinds of wonderful people,” Boyd said. “It’s almost always the music that has brought me.”

On Sunday (March 9) she will be playing at the Port Theatre with Michael Savona.

“Michael is fantastic ... he plays a solo piece and I play a solo piece,” Boyd said.

Her most recent album, The Return... to Canada with Love, was released last year and is a tribute to all things Canadian. The album was inspired by an event that happened years earlier in Germany.

“We were at a conference in Berlin and there were about 300 delegates, including us, from different groups and different countries. We had to sing songs from our country and ... we were stumped because we had forgotten Maple Leaf Forever ... so we ended up singing Alouette and it was a complete disaster ... I was really embarrassed,” Boyd said.  “That was the point when I thought one of these days I am going to write a Canadian song.”

The Return... to Canada with Love features the likes of Jann Arden, Serena Ryder, Randy Bachman, Divine Brown and plenty of well-known Canadians such as astronaut Chris Hadfield and CBC broadcaster Ron McLean.

The album also features Boyd singing in a few different aboriginal languages.

“I was determined to sing a bunch of different native languages,” she said. “So I sang in Ojibwa and I sing in Cree.”

Boyd, who performed at Carnegie Hall when she was 26, has come a long way over the last decade. In 2003, she was diagnosed with musician’s focal dystonia, an incurable neurological condition that affected her playing ability and ultimately forced her to change her playing style.

“It was very hard. There is no physical pain at all but a lot of mental anguish. I thought I was not going to be able to play the guitar again,” she said.

Around the same time, her then husband suggested that she quit music all together.

“I’d rather give up my luxury life in Beverly Hills than my guitar, even though I had no idea if I would ever be on the stage again,” Boyd said. “It was tough.”

After a divorce and a lot of soul searching, the classical guitarist experienced rebirth.

“I took a few years off and I reinvented my whole technique,” she said.

There has been no shortage of memorable moments throughout Boyd’s career. She recalled a time when she was sitting beside Pierre Trudeau, whom she dated for nearly a decade.

“I have had so many,” she said. “When I was sitting between Ronald Regan and Pierre Trudeau, having just played for Margaret Thatcher and all of these legendary people ... I can’t deny that it was a special moment.”

Despite having fond memories with some of the most famous people on earth, Boyd also treasures the simple moments.

“There are also special things like when I paddled a canoe and played up in Moose Factory for the native people that came and sang for me and they made a beautiful choir. I’ll never forget that, it was so touching,” Boyd said.


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