Men of the Deep, Artist of the Week
Runs May 30-June 3rd.
The Men of the Deeps is North America’s only coal mining chorus. Organized in 1966 as part of Cape Breton’s contribution to Canada’s Centennial Year (1967), the group’s inception was an effort by the people of Cape Breton to preserve in song some of the rich folklore of that island’s coal mining communities.
For 50 years the group has been singing of the work and lifestyle of the Cape Breton coal miner to audiences throughout most of Canada and the United States. In 1976 they became the first Canadian performing group to tour the People’s Republic of China after diplomatic relations between the two nations were restored in 1972. In September 1999 the Men of the Deeps traveled to Kosovo in the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the request of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, where they performed in a gala festival organized by actress Vanessa Redgrave on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The Choir has been as far north as the Ekati diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, and as far south as Arizona, Alabama, Florida and the Appalachian coal mining communities of Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In September 2008 the group was invited to perform in Las Vegas at the international MineExpo conference where sold out audiences enjoyed its unique blend of songs and stories for six consecutive nights.
In addition to the historical tour to the People’s Republic of China and the ground breaking trip to Kosovo, some of the group’s interesting concert tours have included two visits to the United States for performances before the United Mine Workers of America at their conventions in Cincinnati, Ohio and Denver, Colorado. They have sung in most major centres across Canada and countless smaller towns from coast to coast.
The musical director of the Men of the Deeps is John C. (“Jack” O’Donnell, Professor of Music at St. Francis Xavier University. In 1983 the government of Canada honoured Professor O’Donnell’s efforts when he was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada. In 1993 the University College of Cape Breton recognized his efforts when the degree Doctor of Letters was conferred upon him at its’ May 1993 Convocation.
The Men of the Deeps are no strangers to the media. The group has appeared in two films produced by the National Film Board of Canada, a number of national television specials with Rita MacNeil and Anne Murray and in 1986 the group was the subject of a CTV network special documentary honouring the 20th anniversary of the group.
During their 25th anniversary year The Men of the Deeps received the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia’s Ambassador of the Year award. Also, in 1991 well known Cape Breton songwriter Allister MacGillvray honoured the group by documenting the Men of the Deeps history with the release of his book entitled “Diamonds in the Rough”.
Another honour for The Men of the Deeps came in the spring of 2000 when the University College of Cape Breton bestowed an honorary doctoral degree on the entire group in recognition of the group’s contribution to Cape Breton culture over the past thirty-four years.
The musical repertoire of the Men of the Deeps is gathered from mining communities around the world but also include many songs composed by Cape Breton writers.
Today the Men of the Deeps are more than a singing group -it is a social institution. There is a comradery amongst the members of the group that carries over to their audiences wherever they perform. Clad in coveralls and hard hats, they make an impressive impact when they enter a concert hall in total darkness with only the lamps on their helmets for light. They are now celebrating 50 years!
A new double CD set has been released to commemorate the Men of the Deeps 50 year anniversary. The new release entitled Coal to Gold Celebrating 50 Years covers the spectrum of songs from their vast collection including tracks from their very first album and subsequent albums throughout the years and several new tracks recorded for the 50th anniversary double CD set. The 30 song collection is a remarkable representation of The Men of the Deeps, a true Cape Breton treasure.