Debbie Robinson elevated to Country Music Hall of Fame

TEHKUMMAH—The Northern Ontario Country Music Association (NOCMA) presented a Hall of Fame Inductee Celebration Show and Dance in honour of Debbie Robinson being inducted into the Northern Ontario Country Music Hall of Fame this fall. The show was held at the Tehkummah Community Hall on July 11.

“Debbie is the 44th person inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Dave Patterson, president and founder of NOCMA. The first inductees were honoured in 2000. “There’ll be 98 Opry members in November. That’s 132 people who got recognition that wasn’t there before. It’s getting that pat on the back, that recognition. Eighty-five percent of country talent changes their mind about having a professional career, largely because of the lifestyle. A lot of them could have at a shot at it but chose to have a regular job and raise a family. They want to play in their own backyard, but they don’t get any recognition.”

Mr. Patterson believes there is a market for traditional country music. This was evident by the number of people who came to the hall to celebrate with Ms. Robinson and to hear the music provided by her band, Down Yonder, and special guests Gordy Lapierre, Jim Beech, Gord Cottrill and Hardy Peltier. Ben Lentir filled in for Glen McDougall, who was feeling under the weather.

Mr. Patterson welcomed the crowd. “Thank you on behalf of Northern Ontario Country Music Association for all your support. To Glen and Beth McDougall, who organize these events, we really couldn’t survive without you. I talk too much when I have a microphone so I’ll just say thanks so much for your support. Let’s listen to some music.”

The band began the show as usual with a traditional song called Down Yonder and continued to entertain the audience for more than two hours. There is no star in Down Yonder as each member sings or plays in turn. They’ve been playing together for a number of years and the camaraderie is evident. The acoustics at Tehkummah’s Community Hall are excellent and provided a complementary backdrop to the music.

“I feel very privileged to be on stage with these guys. I don’t play an instrument, I just sing,” Ms. Robinson said as she introduced the band. “When I was inducted into the Opry, the hardest thing was you only got to pick one song to play. I told these guys it was their job because there’s so many songs it’s hard to pick one. So this is that song. It’s by my favourite country singer Patsy Cline.” She launched into a stunning rendition of ‘Crazy.’

Ms. Robinson is grateful for the musicians who have supported her through the years. “In 1993 I was really lucky,” she said. “I was asked to sing on stage—I don’t play an instrument, so I feel so fortunate in the friends I have sharing their musical talents with me. In 1993 I became of member of the band Country Gold with Ken Elford. I was there for nine years. Tim Shaw and Jeff Pyette (Down Yonder members) were also in the band. Doug (Hore) played fiddle for us. It was a big band and we had a lot of fun.”

“Then for a couple of years I was playing with the Kicking Mule Ranch band. Glen (McDougall) was there,” she continued. “It was kind of fun because you never knew who was going to be there. When the Ranch didn’t want to do that anymore, that’s when Down Yonder started.”

“I was really surprised to be nominated for the Hall of Fame. Last year we were at Green Acres in Sheguiandah, I think Tim couldn’t be there, but everyone else was, including Hardy (Peltier) and Eugene (Manitowabi). Glen and I were talking about nominations and he asked me who I think should go into it this year. I suggested a couple of names. Then he said to everyone ‘we have to talk about inductees. There’s a consensus that Debbie’s going into the Hall of Fame.’ My mouth dropped. I was totally stunned. I thought, ‘I don’t deserve this—I don’t know if I’ve paid my dues.’ I feel very privileged to be going to be part of this company of people.”

Doug Hore, the “fiddling barber,” has played with Ms. Robinson for many years. “We played together in a couple of bands before we got here,” he said. “Debbie’s a great singer. One thing about Debbie is whatever key she’s singing in she hits the key. There’s not too many singers who can do that.”

One of the best things about the celebration was being able to acknowledge all of her mentors and supporters along the way. “It’s not very often you get thank people in public,” Ms. Robinson said.

“When I was told that I was going into the Opry in 2009 it was a good thing I was sitting down, it was a scary moment. There’s a lot of important people on those walls. I’m really happy the person who taught me to sing is right back there tonight. Hi David (Smith). I do appreciate that and thank you for coming.”

“We had country music at home,” the songstress continued. “My mother liked country but my dad liked swing. We used to go on vacations in the car and I drove my family crazy. We sang on most trips. When I was 13 I met a man who would change my life, Bill Omnet. He was a great musician and the kindest soul I’ve ever known. He’s been gone 10 years and there’s very few days I don’t think of him. I learned everything I know about country music from him.”

Debbie Robinson will be inducted into the Northern Ontario Country Music Hall of Fame at the Annual Northern Ontario Country Music Awards weekend which will take place in Sault Ste. Marie November 7 to 9.