Cape Breton fiddling legend Winnie Chafe remembered for empowering others
HALIFAX -- Tributes are pouring in for Cape Breton fiddling icon Winnie Chafe.
Considered by many to be the island’s “first lady of fiddle," Chafe was born on Christmas Day in 1935 and became one of the first Maritime women to achieve fame from playing the fiddle.
She passed away Wednesday.
“Dear Winnie Chafe, God bless her soul, didn’t she make her mark,” said Natalie MacMaster, a world-famous Cape Breton fiddler in her own right.
MacMaster says Chafe paved the way for women like her to make a career out of playing the instrument.
“She would have been a rarity,” said MacMaster. “I don’t know what it was like for her. Certainly for me growing up, it was never an issue, I never noticed male/female, I just played the fiddle, and I grew up at a time when there were some other young girls starting, things had just started to change.”
Donnie Campbell, who hosts the radio show “Celtic Seranade,” also acknowledged Chafe’s greatness. He worked on and off with her for nearly 30 years and says her death is a great loss for the music industry in Cape Breton.
“She was the first woman to win the North American Fiddle Championship,” said Campbell. “I think it was Ashley (MacIsaac) who called her the ‘queen of the slow aires’. She was one of the best.”
In addition to performing around the world, Chafe taught the fiddle for years. She was an associate professor of Celtic Studies at Cape Breton University, holding two honourary doctorates and a Canadian Grand Masters Lifetime Achievement Award.