(1941 – 2023)
“After listening to some of his music, I believe Dubinsky should be better recognized in Canada and abroad and perhaps for more than just his signature tune We Rise Again.”
Music Online. Under the Radar
Welcome to our Sunday music section
“Notable Canadian Jewish Performers.”
By David Eisenstadt
TORONTO. January 29/23 – Following a recent book presentation to music lovers from Temple B’nai Tikvah and Beth Tzedec Congregation in Calgary, Alberta, I learned about a notable Jewish Nova Scotia-born musician who while popular in Atlantic Canada, was very much under the radar elsewhere.
He was a big fish in a small pond. And that suited him just fine.
Leon Isaiah Dubinsky was an iconic, respected, and beloved songwriter/composer, actor, and theatre director. He was best known for penning a ballad in 1984 about the hope and reliance of the people living in Cape Breton. It was written for the stage musical The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton and is considered the unofficial anthem for Cape Breton Island (the northernmost island in Nova Scotia – known for its traditional fiddle music and flourishing Celtic culture.)
The words and music he composed described the challenges faced by Cape Bretoners who were reeling from the collapse of its coal and steel industries.
Dubinsky was content to pursue his career without much fanfare and occasionally performed outside his home province. He found a substantial measure of success even though he didn’t make it onto the international stage. And that appears to have been his choice.
After listening to some of his music, I believe Dubinsky should be better recognized in Canada and abroad and perhaps for more than just his signature tune We Rise Again.
>>> Click here to watch this video <<<
He was born to Newman and Esther (Goldman) Dubinsky in Sydney, Nova Scotia on July 5, 1941. The family was in the grocery business and then ran a ship chandlery operation from the beginning of the Second World War until it was sold before his father’s retirement.
Dubinsky took up the guitar and piano as a teenager and attended Sydney Academy. That led to his first musical composition, for his high school titled All Hail Sydney Academy. Other tunes he composed included One World and Oh Love.
He was a founding member of the Cape Breton band, Buddy and the Boys, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, and who toured nationally.
In the early 1980s, he helped launch what has become an annual musical stage review titled The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton. The tune We Rise Again became a Canadian pop music standard when The Rankin Family, an Atlantic Canada folk music group, recorded it in 1993 for their album North Country. Turns out it was a cross-format hit that climbed onto the Top 20 on Canada’s RPM pop and adult contemporary chart and made it to the Top 40 on the Magazine’s country rankings. Anne Murray, Rita MacNeil, and Men of the Deeps have performed Dubinsky’s work.
He produced the Cape Breton Summertime Revue which toured extensively across Canada during the 1990s.
In 2002, Dubinsky received a Lifetime Achievement Award, also known as the Stompin’ Tom Connors Award, at the East Coast Music Awards for his many contributions to the musical culture of Atlantic Canada.
Dubinsky was also an actor involved with Atlantic Canada regional stage productions including Factory Lab Theatre, Theatre Antigonish, The Mulgrave Road Co-op, and Theatre PEI. He received a Genie Award nomination for his Best Supporting Actor role in the 1987 film Life Classes. In 1988, he starred with Rick Mercer in the CBC TV teleplay My Brother Larry and had a recurring gig in the 1990s television series Pit Pony, playing Cap McKenzie.
Throughout his life, Leon Dubinsky’s obituary noted that he “was deeply honoured that his music had an impact, whether in a bar room or concert hall, a church or a synagogue. He loved hearing how his songs brought hope and inspiration to so any over his long, rich, creative life. He was loved by his family and friends and the entire Cape Breton community. He sang in the Temple Sons of Israel choir and cherished being a part of the Cape Breton Jewish community. An avid storyteller, his presence loomed large and his jokes, puns punchlines, and deep wisdom brought smiles to every face.”
Dubinsky died peacefully in Englishtown, Nova Scotia on January 17, 2023, and is survived by his wife Elizabeth MacCormick, daughter Ella Dubinsky, brother Leslie Dubinsky and several other family members. He was 81.♦
Credits: Leon Dubinsky photo – highlandartstheatre.com; Video – happysun/YouTube
David Eisenstadt is the author of Under the Radar, 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians. He is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.
A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in our category section. Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
-A nice discovery – and I love We Rise Again – a very positive song which brought Rita McNeil back to my memory. She’s not a singer I think about often, even though she’s very good. – GB, Montreal, Quebec, Canada