The past decade has been relatively quiet for Anne Murray.
Following her final concert tour in 2008 and the release of her autobiography All of Me in 2009, the Nova Scotia-born singing star spends her time on the green rather than in the limelight, and her last major public appearance locally was to receive an honorary degree from Mount Saint Vincent University in 2016.
But after being off the road and out of the studio, the internationally recognized icon of pop and country is looking forward to a rush of activity this weekend with Friday’s Halifax premiere of the new musical Can I Have This Dance? based on the hit songs of her career, and the 30th-anniversary celebration for the Anne Murray Centre in her hometown of Springhill.
While she’s enjoyed having some quiet time after four decades of travelling the globe, recording 32 albums and making over 100 TV appearances, she expects this weekend’s sold-out gathering of fans at the Dr. Carson & Marion Murray Community Centre (named for her parents) will be a welcome reminder of the impact her music has had on millions of listeners worldwide.
“And that’s the truth!,” she says over the phone from her summer home in Pugwash. “It’s going to be fun, we’ve got people coming from 35 states, Australia and New Zealand, from Thailand and all over the world.
“I mean, these are REAL fans. Loyal, true-blue fans, many of whom I’ve seen and known since the ’70s. I mean, I recognize them, they’re old friends now. They’ve been around a long time, they came to shows regularly when I was in their area, and I know a lot of them by name. Not all of them, but many of them.”
Featuring a collection of her personal memorabilia, awards and artifacts, as well has information about Springhill’s long history in coal mining and beyond, the Anne Murray Centre has become a premiere attraction in the province, drawing thousands of visitors off the beaten Trans-Canada Highway to Springhill every year.
Murray credits her late manager Leonard Rambeau for getting the ball rolling for the facility, and he worked with the town and the province to make it happen prior to its grand opening on July 28, 1989.
“I was working all the time back then, but I thought it was a great idea for Springhill, but you don’t think that it might last for 30 years, that never occurred to me,” she says.
“These things come and go, you know? And Springhill is a bit remote, it’s not on the main highway so it has to be a destination, but I thought it was a good idea at the time, and a way to give back to the town.”
Over the past decade, Murray says she’s become more involved with the museum, and its presentation of her musical legacy. Especially with the VIP fan meet-and-greet luncheon that she hosts at the community centre, which takes on a more deluxe presentation this year in conjunction with the anniversary.
The annual fundraiser is a major part of keeping the centre open (employing students from the town over the summer) and this year includes a Saturday luncheon preceded by a video with footage of the opening of the centre in 1989, career highlights and congratulatory messages from celebrity friends and fans. Then on Sunday, there will be an Up Close & Personal Interview and Q&A with former Canada A.M. host Jeff Hutcheson as the host.
Attendees have a chance to bid in a silent auction of Murray’s personal memorabilia, including a jacket that was given to her when she performed at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall during its 50th anniversary in the early 1980s, and revisit the singer’s favourite mementos and numerous Juno and Grammy Awards in the centre.
“I like seeing a lot of the letters that I’ve gotten over the years, from other performers and so on,”she says of its collection. “One of the most amazing parts is all the stuff that my mother kept! That always amazes me, because I’m a great one to purge, I throw everything out, and I have people all around me grabbing stuff when I’m ready to throw it.
“My archives were housed in what used to be a squash court in the back of my house. I used it for years, but then after a while I couldn’t do it anymore, so I housed my archives there, and I was ready to set a match to it all because I wanted to move. But I had an assistant who was an archivist and she went apoplectic when I said I was going to get rid of it all. So the University of Toronto took it, a hundred banker’s boxes with every contract from every concert I ever did. It was all there.
“That’s Leonard Rambeau for you, he kept everything. A good Cape Breton boy.”
Many fans heading to Springhill for this weekend’s festivities will also be attending Friday’s special sold-out concert performance of Could I Have This Dance? by Geordie Brown and Belinda Hart at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. The musical uses Murray’s best-known songs to tell a new, original story taken in part from Hart’s own family history.
The production incorporates hits like Snowbird, You Needed Me, Daydream Believer and of course the title song into the story of a group of Nova Scotia women who find strength in their friendship following the Second World War. Murray says she’s unable to attend herself, but is looking forward to hearing all about it from friends and fans this weekend.
“It sounds great to me, I’ve only had the thumbnail sketch of the story, but I know it’s centred around Belinda’s grandmother, who is a central character in the play,” she says.
“That’s my understanding of it, anyway, but the thing I liked about it the most was that it wasn’t about me! So gave my blessing to the production, to a certain extent, but they’re the ones who have to clear the copyrights and get licensing for all the songs, and that’s quite a job.”
Murray says much of this weekend will also be preserved for posterity by a film crew from New York that’s in the early stages of making a documentary about her. It’s not the first time her life story has been captured by the camera, but this project looks to be the most comprehensive profile so far.
“There’s so much material, they have access to a lot of stuff, and we have it all, so they wouldn’t even have to do this (filming), but they want something that’s up-to-date and I get that, since there is something new going on here.
“I mean, I’m not dead yet! Heaven knows when that will turn up, it’s still at the beginning, but we’ll see where this takes us.”