‘Unsung musical hero’: New anthology highlights Indigenous musician Willie Dunn

TORONTO — A new anthology of music from late Indigenous singer-songwriter Willie Dunn is hoping to set the record straight on “one of Canada’s unsung musical heroes.”

Light in the Attic, a Seattle-based music label, says it’s planning to release a remastered collection of 22 songs that serves as a “definitive overview” of the Montreal-born artist, who is of mixed Mi’kmaq and Scottish/Irish background.

“Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology,” due on March 19, will bring together unreleased and rare recordings, photos and interviews with the musician.

Dunn launched his music career in the 1960s alongside Buffy Sainte-Marie, A. Paul Ortega, and Floyd Westerman, but his far-reaching influence only started to receive greater recognition in the years after his death in 2013.

His song “Charlie,” which appears on the upcoming album, is considered to be the first piece of music that told the story of Chanie Wenjack and the residential school system. The track was released in the early 1970s, decades before Gord Downie made it the focus of his “Secret Path” project.

Dunn was also a filmmaker whose “The Ballad of Crowfoot” short film is “often referred to as Canada’s first music video,” according to the National Film Board.

Organizers of the Prism Prize, which celebrates Canadian music video creators, named its trailblazer award after Dunn last year to recognize his influence on the medium.

The new anthology album goes a step further in putting Dunn’s cultural influence on display. The collection will offer space for perspective from other Indigenous creators, among them acclaimed filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin.

Liner notes will be written by Kevin Howes, who contributed to the label’s previous collection “Native North America, Vol. 1.”

That album brought together rare works from influential Indigenous creators, among them Dunn and Curtis Jonnie, the Ojibway musician known as Shingoose who died last month.

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