ABRAM-VILLAGE – One of Prince Edward Island’s best-known Acadian singer-songwriters, Angèle Arsenault, died in Quebec Tuesday at the age of 70.
Évangéline, Acadian Queen and Moi j'mange are among the dozens of songs she wrote and recorded. Her 1977 album, Libre (Free) shot to triple platinum status for 300,000 copies sold.
The eighth child in Arthur and Joséphine Arsenault’s family of 14 children, Angèle Arsenault’s childhood was filled with music and song and dance. Just about everyone in the household played at least one musical instrument and they often performed at house parties together.
Her first confirmation as a gifted singer came at age 14 when she won a televised singing contest in Charlottetown. Her career as a folk singer started while attending university in Moncton in 1963 and really started to soar in the early 1970s after she moved to Quebec. She was also active as a television host and she won a Gold Hugo Award from the Chicago International Film Festival in 1974 for her educational program, Avec Angèle. She was in several films for the National Film Board of Canada.
“She was very eclectic on stage. She could grab all the audience’s attention; she was very, very good at that, to communicate,” said her sister, Marie Anne Arsenault of Mont Carmel, who attended many of her performances. “She was an excellent communicator.”
She toured across Canada and internationally and performed several times at the Acadian Festival in the community where she was born. Last summer she had all of her family on stage with her for the festival’s closing show.
More recently, she translated to French the lyrics for the P.E.I. 2014 celebration song, Forever Strong, and was part of a travelling show promoting the province’s 2014 celebrations across Canada.
For much of her career she was based out of Montreal, but she moved home to P.E.I. in 1996 to care for her mother. She returned to Quebec in 2012 and, although her family knew she was in ailing health, her death on Tuesday came as a shock. She would not have wanted her brothers and sisters to worry about her, said Marie Anne.
P.E.I. premier Robert Ghiz issued a statement Wednesday extending sympathy on the passing of Angèle Arsenault to her family and friends.
“Angèle was an incredible talent that left an indelible mark on Prince Edward Island, and especially on the Island’s Acadian and Francophone community,” said the premiere.
Throughout her distinguished career she was well thought of as a musical and Acadian ambassador for Prince Edward Island. She was named in 1997 to the Ordre de la Pléiade de l'Association des parlementaires de langue française, recognizing her work in the promotion of the French language and culture, and she received an honorary doctorate from UPEI in 1999. She was named Zonta International’s Woman of the Year in 2000, was named to the Order of Canada in 2003 and to the Order of Prince Edward Island in 2005.
“She was such a good person,” said her sister, Marie Anne Arsenault; “a heart of gold.”
Funeral arrangements are still being finalized, but Marie Anne said a memorial service will likely be held in P.E.I. this spring.