We have a special schedule preemption this week, as Art of the Song pays tribute to American musician and songwriter Jesse Winchester, who died April 11, 2014.
James Ridout “Jesse” Winchester (May 17, 1944 – April 11, 2014) was an American musician and songwriter who was born and raised in the southern United States. To avoid the Vietnam War draft he moved to Canada in 1967, where he began his career as a solo artist. His highest charting recordings were of his own tunes, “Yankee Lady” in 1970 and “Say What” in 1981. He became a Canadian citizen in 1973, gained amnesty in the U.S. in 1977 and resettled there in 2002.
Winchester was probably best known as a songwriter, with his works being recorded by many notable artists, including Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Anne Murray, Reba McEntire, The Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris.A number of these recordings have had success on various charts.
Winchester released several albums during the 1970s. Due to his status as a draft resister, he was unable to tour in the United States. As a result, he became recognized primarily as a songwriter. His best known songs include “Yankee Lady”, “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz”, “Mississippi, You’re on My Mind”, “A Showman’s Life”, and “Biloxi”. These and others have been recorded by numerous artists, including Jerry Jeff Walker, George Strait, Gary Allan, Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Anne Murray, Reba McEntire, The Everly Brothers, Wynona Judd, The Weather Girls, New Grass Revival, Fairport Convention, Tim Hardin, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Nicolette Larsen, Ted Hawkins, Ian Matthews, Colleen Peterson, Tom Rush, Brewer & Shipley, Raffi, Skydiggers and Wilson Pickett.
In 1974, Winchester often performed at the Hotel Le Chatelet in Morin Heights, Quebec run by several Tennesseans who had come to Canada in 1972. David “Butch” McDade and Jeff “Stick” Davis moved to Quebec to become part of Jesse Winchester and the Rhythm Aces. Winchester was the first to record the songs “Third Rate Romance” and “The End is Not in Sight”, both written by Russel Smith. Smith traveled to Montreal to assist in the recording of the Learn to Love It album at Studio Six. Later Smith, Davis, and McDade became the original members of the The Amazing Rhythm Aces.
Upon his election in 1976, President Jimmy Carter declared he would grant amnesty to draft evaders, except those who had deserted or had become citizens of another country. Winchester had by this time become a Canadian citizen, but Barry Bozeman, his manager at the time, was able to convince Carter on Winchester’s behalf to broaden the amnesty.
Winchester’s first appearance in the U.S. thereafter was a sold out performance in Burlington, Vermont on April 21, 1977. Rolling Stone magazine covered the event coining the phrase “the Greatest Voice of the Decade” to describe Winchester’s vocal style.
He was nominated for the Best Country Male Vocalist award at the Juno Awards of 1990. In 2002, Winchester moved back to the United States, settling in Virginia. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007. Winchester has continued to record and perform throughout the United States and Canada, releasing his tenth studio album, Love Filling Station, in 2009.
In 2011, Winchester was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and underwent treatment for the next couple of months. Winchester was later given a clean bill of health from his doctor and resumed his tour.
In April 2014, Winchester was revealed to be “gravely ill” and receiving hospice care at his home. He died on the morning of April 11, 2014, at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia from bladder cancer.