Canadian folk and roots music icon Kate McGarrigle has died of cancer at age 63.

Matriarch of the musical Wainwright clan, McGarrigle died at her home in Outremont surrounded by her sisters, Jane and Anna, and her children, musicians Rufus and Martha Wainwright.

"Sadly our sweet Kate had to leave us last night," wrote sister Anna on their website,

"She departed in a haze of song and love surrounded by family and good friends. She is irreplaceable and we are broken-hearted. Til we meet again, dear sister."

She had been battling cancer since the summer of 2006, but things took a turn for the worst in December, says brother-in-law Dane Lanken. The cancer started in her small intestine and spread to her liver, he said.

"She was, in our family group, I would have to say, the centre of that little universe," an emotional Lanken said in an interview with CTV.

"She was very energetic. She always had a million ideas."

Prolific, talented

Known as The McGarrigle Sisters, Kate and Anna began their careers performing at Montreal coffeehouses in the 1960s with a group called the Mountain City Four. They got their break in the 1970s, when their songs were covered by numerous artists, including Linda Ronstadt, who used Heart Like a Wheel as the title song to one of her albums.

In 1975, they made their first record, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, which brought them critical acclaim and additional famous covers by artists including Emmylou Harris, Judy Collins and Billy Bragg.

Their own well-known releases included The Work Song, Cool River and Lying Song, but Canadians are likely most familiar with their rendition of Wade Hemsworth's The Log Driver's Waltz, which appeared on a 1979 animated film by the National Film Board. The sisters were the subject of a 1982 NFB documentary.

McGarrigle and Anna were lauded on the Canadian and international folk scene, recording 10 albums in French and English. Their work has been sung by dozens of artists in a variety of genres.

In 1993, she was made a member of the Order of Canada.


McGarrigle was married for some time to American songwriter and folk singer Loudon Wainwright III. Their children, Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright, are both successful songwriters.

Last week, the Grammy-nominated Rufus cancelled his Australian tour to be with his mother.


If you would like to make a special donation in honour of Kate, follow this link and donate online or call the MUHC Foundation directly at 514-931-5656.

With a report from The Canadian Press