IN MEMORIAM | Cape Breton Composer And Actor Leon Dubinsky Has Died At Age 81

By Anya Wassenberg on January 19, 2023

Leon Dubinsky in 2010 (Photo: Abebenjoe/CC BY-SA 4.0/cropped)
Leon Dubinsky in 2010 (Photo: Abebenjoe/CC BY-SA 4.0/cropped)

Composer Leon Dubinsky, best known for a song that has become the unofficial anthem of Cape Breton, has died at age 81. He passed away in his beloved Englishtown, NS on January 16, 2023.

The song “We Rise Again” was among hundreds written by Dubinsky, but it’s surely the one with the farthest reach. First released as part of a compilation called The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island in the 1980s, it was later recorded by The Rankin Family for their album North Country (1993) and went on to become a hit. The Rankin’s late singer Raylene made it a signature song.

“It’s incredible how far-reaching that song has been. It’s used to inspire people to get up when the chips are down. It just continues to find new life,” says Raylene’s sister, Heather Rankin, said in an interview with CTV.

The song talks about working through challenges, and was released during a time of economic downturn as Cape Breton’s steel and coal industries struggled.

Toronto’s Elmer Iseler Singers, through conductor Lydia Adams, issued a statement about his passing.

“The Elmer Iseler Singers have been honoured to sing “We Rise Again” in every part of Canada where we have toured: East, West and North. Leon’s words and music have brought inspiration, hope and light to many thousands of audience members and singers around the world.

“The Elmer Iseler Singers send our deepest condolences to Leon’s family and his many, many friends and colleagues.”

Leon Dubinsky

Leon Isaiah Dubinsky was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1941. He went on to become a fixture in Cape Breton’s art and culture scene. Along with his songwriting, he devoted his talents to celebrating the region’s arts.

  • He served as musical director of the Cape Breton Summertime Revue and Rise and Follies for 12 years;
  • Founding member of the band, Buddy and the Boys, and sang in the Temple Sons of Israel choir for decades;
  • He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the ECMAs in 2002.

Dubinsky also worked as an actor, including a starring role in the 1999 TV series Pit Pony, a story about the declining coal mining communities around Glace Bay.

In 2021, the Elmer Iseler Singers with Lydia Adams, Conductor & Artistic Director got together with five choirs from across Canada to pay tribute to the song. Appearing in the video are: Agincourt Madrigal Singers — James Pinhorn, Conductor; Cape Breton Chorale — Ryan Billington, Director; Thunder Bay Symphony Chorus — Maria Fuller, Conductor; Whitehorse Community Choir — Barbara Chamberlin, Conductor; Wiarton Concert Choir — Marla Spencer, Director. The soloists are: Abiraami Krishnakumar, Tharaka Srikanthan, Amy Dodington, with Shawn Grenke at the piano.

Rest in peace.

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