Jane Siberry | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jane Siberry

A self-financed debut LP in the contemporary folk style, Jane Siberry (1980-1, Street SR-002), was followed 1984-9 by four 'pop-art' albums for Duke Street Records: No Borders Here (DSR-31006), The Speckless Sky (DSR-31019), The Walking (DSR-31040), and Bound by the Beauty (DSR-31058).

Siberry, Jane

 Jane Siberry. Singer-songwriter, guitarist, entrepreneur, b Toronto 12 Oct 1955; B SC (Guelph) 1979. She played piano as a child and took up the guitar in her teens, first appearing as a solo folksinger in Guelph (eg, at the Carden Street Café) while studying biology at the University of Guelph. She also performed with Wendy Davis as Java Jive (the bassist John Switzer later made it a trio), and again as a solo artist, at folk festivals in Ontario.

A self-financed debut LP in the contemporary folk style, Jane Siberry (1980-1, Street SR-002), was followed 1984-9 by four 'pop-art' albums for Duke Street Records: No Borders Here (DSR-31006), The Speckless Sky (DSR-31019), The Walking (DSR-31040), and Bound by the Beauty (DSR-31058). The single 'Mimi on the Beach' (1984) achieved gold status; 'One More Colour' (1985) was a minor hit, and domestic sales of The Speckless Sky exceeded 50,000. Other Siberry songs of note include 'Map of the World (Part II),' Ingrid (and the Footman),' 'The Walking,' 'Bound by the Beauty,' and 'Everything Reminds Me of My Dog.'

Siberry returned to the folk festival circuit in Canada intermittently throughout the 1980s and also appeared with her ensemble (Switzer, guitarist Ken Myhr, drummer Al Cross, cello and keyboard player Anne Bourne, and others) in Canadian clubs and concert halls and at Expo 86. She was seen in two documentary films introduced in 1987 by Cambium Productions, One More Color and I Muse Aloud. She undertook a solo folk festival tour in 1989.

Siberry made her US debut in 1984 at the Ritz in New York, and her European debut in 1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. During a 1990 tour comprising some 50 concerts she performed with Myhr and Teddy Borowiecki (piano) in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, the USA, and Canada. One of the most celebrated of Canadian pop performers to emerge in the mid-1980s, Siberry first drew comparisons from the international press to Joni Mitchell, to Britain's Kate Bush, and to the USA's Laurie Anderson. She subsequently joined Mitchell 'et al' as a comparative model for singers who followed, thus prompting the suggestion (Toronto Mar 1988) that 'no musician as unhurried, as directed by the mind's eye, as disarmingly free with the formalities of pop or as occasionally mystifying as Jane Siberry could serve as an accurate point of reference for anyone but herself.'

Siberry recorded several more albums in her distinctive style. When I Was a Boy (CD 26824 WEA), 1993, contained her song 'Calling All Angels,' which was used in the feature films Until the End of the World and Pay It Forward. Other Siberry songs have been heard in other films, eg, 'One More Colour' in The Sweet Hereafter. Maria (CD 45915 Reprise), 1995, her last album for Reprise, featured improvised songs performed with jazz musicians.

Siberry formed her own Internet-based Toronto recording company, Sheeba Records, in 1996; on this new label she had released a mounting catalogue of recordings, books, and other products as of 2003. Teenager (Sheeba Records 96CD001), 1996, was followed by Child (62156-2 Sheeba), 1997. She explored sound collage in A Day in the Life NYC (SHECD-002), 1997. The singer recorded The New York Trilogy (SHE003, 006-7-8), 1999, in its namesake city. She ventured into traditional spirituals in Hush (SHE008), 2000; City (SHE010), 2001, was a compilation of her collaborations.

Siberry performed across Canada and the USA, including numerous club performances in Toronto and New York and appearances at the Edmonton and Ottawa folk festivals in 1999. Her tours also took her to the UK (2001) and Japan (2003). Many Siberry performances included spoken-word recitations.

Siberry also sang on cassette recordings by Don Freed (On the Plains) and David Ramsden (Quiet Please! There's a Lady on Stage), both released in 1990. Later, she collaborated with Peter Gabriel, k.d. lang, and others. In 2005, the Canada Council recognized Siberry with its Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award.

Marie-Lynn Hammond has described Siberry as "an ethereal-looking creature with an ethereal voice, given to odd wispy haircuts and even odder, wispier harmonies." Hammond added, "Her songs move between the twin poles of obliquely-framed slice-of-life vignettes and impenetrable abstraction. At best, her lyrics, melodies and vocal style are full of right-angled turns, marvellous little epiphanies, and wry humour ('I'd probably be famous now if I wasn't such a good waitress')" (This Magazine, August 1990).


Swan: Three Poems (Toronto 1998)

'True independence,' Canadian Musician, Aug 1999

Further Reading