Author Archives: Hollis Morgan

Maria Dunn: An Important and Vital Songwriter

A true preserver of the spirit of folk music, one of Gil’s Hootenanny 2019 featured artists, twice Juno-nominated Maria Dunn (, is often compared to Woody Guthrie for her keen social awareness and her unvarnished songs about the lives of working men and women. Maria Dunn and Maria Hawkins, affectionately dubbed “the Marias” by Hootenanny organizers, are the headliners for the 10th Anniversary of this annual May Day sing-along event.

Photo by David Williamson

Thirteen years as a volunteer DJ in community radio (1987-2000) encouraged Maria to listen widely to the master songwriters, singers and instrumentalists of folk and roots music. Discovering their recordings and becoming an avid fan and supporter of live music in her community, she absorbed the important messages of compassion and human struggle that have always been central to the writings of folk artists from Buffy Ste. Marie to Hazel Dickens, from Bill Broonzy to Dick Gaughan.

By the time she began writing her own music in the mid-90s, Maria was learning to draw deeply on the folk tradition of storytelling through song to honour the resilience and grace of “ordinary” people, past and present.

In keeping with Pete Seeger’s words (1994), “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”, her latest recording, Gathering,highlights stories of love—not songs of romantic love, but songs of family, community, humanity and the love that fires our actions to make the world a better place. The songs range from historical and narrative to personal and immediate, inspired by social justice stories both global and local.

The 2019 Gil’s Hootenanny will take place on Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo. Tickets ($10, kids free) are available online and (cash only) at Octopus Books, 16 Third Avenue. 


Bread and Roses

Celebrating Helen Levine at Gil’s Hootenanny

Bread and Roses” is a feature of the Gil’s Hootenanny repertoire. For 2019’s Hootenanny, this historic song will take on a special significance, as it was a favourite of Helen Levine, who died at 95 on October 24, 2018. Helen and Gil Levine, for whom the Hootenanny is named, hosted hootenannies in their home for decades.

2016 bread and roses
2016 bread and roses. Photo by Jake Morrison

Helen’s daughter, Tamara Levine, explained that her mother understood the power of collective singing within social and political movements. Coming out of the successful 1912 textile strike by immigrant women workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the message in “Bread and Roses” resonated with Helen, a long time feminist with a wide interest in social justice. “Bread and Roses”, an anthem of both the women’s and the labour movements, demands not only fair wages for women (bread), but also dignity, respect, education and culture (roses).

Tamara attributes her mother’s love of “Bread and Roses” to the “simple yet strong image of the bread for survival and roses for beauty” that illustrates Helen’s belief in ‘the personal is political’. The song also speaks to her commitment to the advancement of equality for women in all aspects of society.

The 2019 Hootenanny will take place on Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo.

Tickets are $10; kids are free.

Helen and Gil on Helen’s bench at Dow’s Lake, circa 2005

Gil & Helen Levines’ Legacy

Changing the World Through the Power of Song

When Gil Levine died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary, “… plan a hootenanny”, were the beginning of Gil’s Hootenanny, an Ottawa tradition now into its milestone 10th year and getting stronger.

Helen and Gil Levine

Held each year on May Day, this annual celebration of the collective power of song to change the world was inspired by Gil, the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), a great lover of folk music and a staunch supporter of folk musicians. Helen Levine, who died at 95 in October 2018, also considered herself an “old folkie”. Helen and Gil showed their love of folk music in many ways, including hosting annual hootenannies and May Day celebrations at their home for decades.

Among Gil’s favourite troubadors were Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs, and Gil’s Hootenanny always celebrates these musical legends with a song or two. Helen and Gil had a particularly strong connection to Pete. In 1957, Gil co-produced a Seeger concert in Ottawa – with friends Harvey Glatt and Max Sternthal – at a time when he was blacklisted in the US. Helen recalled that they “scraped $25 together to rent the hall, which wasn’t easy back then”. As 2019 marks the 100th Anniversary of Pete Seeger’s birth, the Hootenanny will pay homage to him with a special presentation by Steve Richer, folk singer and banjo-playing Professor Emeritus at Carleton University.

Through its song-writing contests and workshops, Gil’s Hootenanny has made a significant contribution to Canada’s hope and protest songbook. Tony Turner’s 2015 contest-winning song, “Harperman”, went viral in Canada and beyond. Mark Evenchick’s 2016 winning song “Believe Again” and 2017’s winner “Rise Above” by Christine Graves have become staples of their impressive repertoires.

Helen and Gil’s vision of a better world included bringing people together to celebrate and share the stories, struggles and victories of working women and men. It is thus fitting that Gil’s Hootenanny has evolved into a fun, energetic sing-along event that celebrates the power of song to change the world.

The 2019 Hootenanny will take place on Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo.

Tickets are $10; kids are free.

Stay tuned for further information.

2018 Hootenanny Was Fantastic!

A sold out audience sang and clapped their way through a rollicking 2018 Gil’s Hootenanny at the Clarke Room of the RA Centre on May 1st. Everyone, audience, performers and volunteers had a great time. Here are some highlights:

A Light of A Much Brighter Kind Finale

Solidarity We Bleed

Right Here Finale

Odetta Trilogy

We Shall Not Be Moved

See you all next year. Same day. Same time. Same place.



“Gil’s at Grassroots”

“Gil’s at Grassroots”:
A Celebration of Original Sing-Along Songs
April 28th at 4pm

Building on the long tradition of working together to create melodies and lyrics for protest songs, Gil’s Hootenanny is hosting a free afternoon session at the Ottawa Grassroots Festival on April 28th that will feature recent, collaboratively-created, original “Songs of Protest, Songs of Hope”. Continue reading

Songwriting Workshop Inspiring Lyrics and Rousing Melodies

Over two dozen novice and experienced songwriters gathered at the Black Irish Pub on Sunday, April 8th to participate in the first of two Gil’s Hootenanny-sponsored workshops designed to create sing-along songs that share and celebrate the stories, struggles and victories of working people.

Led by singer-songwriter-teacher Jamie Anderson, the songwriters were organized into four groups and Continue reading

Eve Goldberg – A Voice for Social Justice

Eve Goldberg, the 2018 Gil’s Hootenanny headliner, is a singer-songwriter who believes that she has a unique platform “to be a voice for social justice and the power of positive change”. For Eve, this commitment not only means writing issue-oriented songs, but also, and perhaps more importantly, creating space in her performances “to help create community by being inclusive and positive”. Continue reading