Juno Award-winning Manitoba musician Vince Fontaine dies at age 60

Friends, loved ones and the Manitoba music community mourn the loss of Juno Award-winning guitarist Vince Fontaine.

The Eagle & Hawk co-founder and former member of folk-rock group Indian City died this week of a heart attack, said Jay Bodner, his bandmate for 25 years.

Fontaine was 60 years old.

“It was very sudden. Yesterday morning he and I were texting about COVID and road concerts,” Bodner told host Marcy Markusa in an interview with CBC Manitoba. Radio Information Wednesday.

“We are all speechless and in shock.”

A member of the Sagkeeng First Nation, Fontaine led the Juno-nominated Indian city.

Eagle & Hawk have released 10 albums, including their debut album in 1997. Fontaine and Bodner have won numerous awards with Eagle & Hawk at Junos, Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, Western Canadian Music Awards, Native American Music Awards and more.

They have toured the world, playing notable events like the Olympics and the New Orleans Jazz Fest.

Fontaine was known for his work ethic early on and later as a mentor to young Indigenous musicians in Winnipeg and beyond, Bodner said.

“He took up the torch from the original indigenous groups in this town, like Shingoose and C-Weed and Billy Joe Green,” Bodner said. “He really, really worked his ass to move the dial and push Native music into the mainstream.”

Vince Fontaine, left, and Jay Bodner performed at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in the early 2000s. They performed together for 25 years. (Submitted by Jay Bodner)

Bodner and Fontaine completed a few shows in December and were discussing future shows amid the pandemic.

Bodner said he was lost.

“Right now I’m really processing,” he said. “We had a really fantastic race.”

Fontaine’s niece and NDP MP Nahanni Fontaine (St. Johns) said on social media that the family was stunned and devastated.

The Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Arlen Dumas, said Fontaine was a very famous Indigenous songwriter and composer, but he also “never said no when it came to helping people. Indigenous Peoples”.

“But he did it quietly,” Dumas said in a press release. “It is such a tragic loss, for he was a musical beacon and a cultural ambassador for First Nations in North America and around the world.”

Rhonda Head, an award-winning classical singer, toured southern Manitoba with Fontaine last summer.

She was one of the many people supervised by Fontaine over the years.

Opera singer Rhonda Head credits Fontaine for paving the way that she believes has helped shape her own career. (Submitted by Rhonda Head)

“He has so much knowledge, he was a go-getter and he always worked and networked and wanted to connect musicians,” she said.

“I started to mirror him and copy what he was doing, so I credit my successes because of him.”

Head remembers fondly the night she and Fontaine won the Native American Music Awards. They stayed close after that.

“He was very loving, caring, sharing and very passionate,” Head said. “We’re all devastated right now.”

David McLeod, CEO of Native Communications Inc. (NCI FM), said Fontaine’s impact on younger generations of Indigenous musicians is part of his legacy.

David McLeod, CEO of NCI FM, said Fontaine was a visionary concerned with uplifting and connecting people through music. (Kevin Nepitabo / CBC)

He was much more than a conductor, McLeod said.

“He laid the groundwork for further acts to achieve this worldwide recognition, which is so deserved within the indigenous community,” he said.

“The underlying message of all of Vince’s work was to connect people through the arts, through love, understanding and sharing time together. A true visionary.”

Corina C. Butler