Although she received the Order of Canada for her social activism in 2005, Heather Bishop’s music career began by taking piano lessons as a child, and later picking up the guitar and taking vocal lessons. The Regina native earned a BA in Music in 1969, and had also formed the all-girl dance group, Walpurgis Night.
But by 1976 she performed for the first time as a solo artist in ’76, at the Regina Folk Festival. She moved to Winnipeg and formed her own record label, Mother of Pearl.
She recorded a pair of album over the next couple of years at Kolossal Studios – GRANDMOTHER’S SONG in ’79 and CELEBRATION a year later. She surrounded herself by likes of Connie Kaldor, Danny Casavant and Bill Garrett on guitars and mandolin, but also brought elements into the folk mix album with cellos and horns that gave the albums sophistication.
Neither record produced any singles, but predominantly self-written, they were overwhelmingly received well by the critics for songs like “Sugar In My Bowl,” “Blues For Mama,” the title tracks, “Did Jesus Have A Baby Sister,” and “Prairie Wind,” as well as her cover of The Animals’ “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunerstood.”
It was around this time she was already performing for children, as part of the Manitoba Arts Council’s Artists in the Schools program, and she recorded her first children’s album in 1982. BELLY BUTTON: A COLLECTION OF SONGS FOR CHILDREN featured a version of Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game” and the country classic “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” Her second release that year was the controversial at times, I LOVE WOMEN…. WHO LAUGH. With a slightly larger pop sound,
She mostly worked the kids’ circtui for the next few years, but returned to the music mainstream in ’87, with A TASTE OF THE BLUES. With US distribution through Icebergg Records, the album sold nearly 50,000 copies across the continent, and kept her on the road off and on for nearly a year, including her first ever American dates. On the backs of what critics called some of her best offerings yet, the lyrics were more intimate and at times taking a more social stance, with songs like “Seduced,” “Spirit Healer,” “Daddy’s Little Girl,” and “If You Love Freedom.” She was nominated for the Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year at that year’s Junos.
As her philanthropic work began taking a front seat in her life, her next recording wasn’t until 1989, with WALK THAT EDGE, which sparked a 16 date cross-Canada tour. She returned with OLD, NEW, BORROWED, BLUE three years later, which featured a few retakes on some of her earlier material. This period for the more mature singer/songwriter produced another critically praised pair of albums, with “Blanket of My Love,” “Let Them Talk,” Walk That Edge,” “Yukon Rain,” and “Our Silence.”
When she wasn’t taking up stances on environmentalism, animal rights, children’s safety, or for labour unions or the gay community, she spent the next few years concentrating on recording and performing children’s music, starting with A DUCK IN NEW YORK CITY in ’94. The musical tale about a wayward duck that visits The Big Apple by accident received the Parent’s Choice Gold Award. It was followed by PURPLE PEOPLE EATER, and then CHICKEE’S ON THE RUN in ’97. Her ability to weave stories and classic pop into the fabric of kids led to several other awards, and CHICKEE also earned a Juno nomination in ’98.
1997’s DAYDREAM ME AT HOME was another critical success, featuring the lead-off “Let Me Make It Up to You Tonight,” “Hymn To Her,” and “Sheik Shaboom.” Although she hadn’t played live much over the last few years except on the kids’ tours, she assembled a group and began playing the festivals and clubs again, taking her from coast to coast.
Now living in Edmonton, along with helping out in various street and youth projects, she became a highly sought after keynote speaker at various socio-economic, education, business, government, and religious functions. She returned to music for a few years, with her live album in 2001 and A TRIBUTE TO PEGGY LEE three years later.
Bishop then spent several more years away from performing and recording to pursue her love of painting, which grew critical praise. By now she’d also already been awarded the Order of Canada, the Order of Manitoba, and an Honourary Doctorate of Laws. She returned in 2009 with MY FACE IS A MAP OF MY TIME HERE. Along with cuts like “That Serpent” (co-written with Connie Kaldor), “Ancient Cry,” and the Leonard Cohen cover “Hallelujah,” a booklet of her paintings was included along with the CD.