Gerald Mitchell, the Labrador Balladeer, dead at 86

Gerald Mitchell, known across Labrador as the Labrador Balladeer, died last week at the age of 86. (Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society - image credit)
Gerald Mitchell, known across Labrador as the Labrador Balladeer, died last week at the age of 86. (Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society
Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society

Gerald Mitchell, an accomplished musician and artist known for capturing the essence of Labrador's people and culture in his work, has died.

Mitchell, known throughout the Big Land as the Labrador Balladeer, is being remembered as a promoter of all things Labrador during his music career, which began in the 1960s in Makkovik. He was also known as a talented illustrator who created artwork of Labrador from memory.

He died last week at the age of 86.

"He was a true Labrador icon in the true sense of the word for his music and his art. And he became well known just through his own doings," Gary Mitchell, Gerald's nephew, said Tuesday.

"He portrayed Labrador life, the culture of Labrador life, by painting homesteads and land, scenery and the people of Labrador. He was a very, very passionate and very detailed artist and he put the faces of Labrador people on the canvas."

Mitchell got his big break in 1964 when he was called into a radio station to record a 30-minute program. The response was positive, which meant Mitchell kept coming back, and he was able to get his own show, for which he adopted the Labrador Balladeer moniker.

The East Coast Music Awards awarded Mitchell the Stompin' Tom Connors Award for his contribution to Newfoundland and Labrador music in 2010. Mitchell is also recognized by the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society as an important contributor to Labrador culture.

Gary Mitchell said he was often captivated by his ability to capture the essence of Labrador in his songs.

"You heard those all the time, those songs from Uncle Gerald, and you just wanted to be part of that. You saw how people reacted to it and the response that people got from it," he said. "The satisfaction that people got from listening to that kind of music and those words, it certainly inspired you."

CBC/Land & Sea 1981
CBC/Land & Sea 1981

Brandon Pardy, Mitchell's great-nephew and a musician in Makkovik, said Mitchell taught him the first chords he learned on guitar. Mitchell was at the centre of his decision to be a musician, he said.

"Just watching him on the guitar, sit there, legs crossed and sat back, you know, playing these beautiful folk tunes.… I'd just think 'Wow," Pardy said.

"Not only is that an amazing Labrador musician, that's my great uncle. And I want to be like him when I grow up."

Pardy and Gary Mitchell were able to collaborate on an album together with Mitchell, titled From the Big Land, in 2011.

What he did, his life, his legacy, I'll remember him as my inspiration. - Gary Mitchell

Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans, who grew up alongside Mitchell in Makkovik, remembers him as an intelligent and funny man who wasn't afraid to put people in their place.

She has fond memories of his artwork, which she says painted Labrador in ways that were unseen before — she calls it a visual representation of the stories parents passed down to their children.

"We would picture [the stories] in our minds.… The difference was Gerald Mitchell, Uncle Gerald, would capture it in is artwork. And we could see it, we could see how it actually was," Evans said Monday.

Both Gary Mitchell and Pardy say their relative's legacy will be felt for generations across Labrador and he'll be with them in everything they do.

"What he did, his life, his legacy, I'll remember him as my inspiration. Looking ahead, I see him there, calling for me to do some more," Gary Mitchell said.

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