Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester hailed from the U.S. South, but he became known as a Canadian musician after moving to Montreal to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War. Sadly, he passed away today (April 11) following a battle with cancer. He was 69.
Winchester was originally diagnosed with the disease in 2011. At that time, he underwent surgery and continued performing with an apparently clean bill of health. The cancer returned in February of this year, this time in his bladder, and it was inoperable. Winchester spent his final days in hospice care at home in Charlottesville, VA.
Jesse was a scholar as a teen, graduating from Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, TN as a Merit finalist, national honor society member and class Salutatorian. Unfortunately, just after his college graduation, he received his draft notice and, instead of serving, moving to Montreal, Canada.
Although he dabbled with music in high school, he didn’t go full into the profession until he got to Montreal, joining the band Les Astronautes. Eventually, he started playing in coffeehouses around eastern Canada.
The band’s Robbie Robertson took notice of Winchester and helped him get his first record contract, issuing his self-titled debut album in 1970. While he continued to record through the decade, he was unable to tour outside of Canada and became better known for his songs then for his own performances. Artists picked up and recorded a number of his songs including Brand New Tennessee Waltz, Yankee Lady, A Showman’s Life and Biloxi.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to draft evaders and allowed special amnesty for Winchester who had become a Canadian citizen, opening up the U.S. market to Winchester as a touring artist. He didn’t move back to the U.S. until 2002.
Between 1970 and 1981, Winchester released seven studio albums before taking a break from the business, living off of his song royalties. He returned in 1988 with Humour Me followed by an even longer eleven year break before 1999’s Gentleman of Leisure. Jesse released his tenth and final studio album, Love Filling Station, in 2009.