Summerside-born Paul Bernard received the Stompin’ Tom Award for long-time contributions to the music industry on Saturday morning, July 11, as part of the leadup to the 2020 East Coast Music Awards Saturday night.
Bernard, who has Parkinson’s and no longer performs live, listened to the announcement on the radio with his wife Renee Blanchette.
The disease makes it difficult for Bernard to talk, so Blanchette acted as an interpreter of sorts for him. While not the first award Bernard has received for his music, Blanchette said he was still honoured to receive this one.
“He was moved, but his emotions are shadowed somewhat with Parkinson’s, but I could see his fingers on the armrest playing the song, Isla Rosada, along with it.”
Isla Rosada translates to “pink island” and is, fittingly, a song Bernard wrote about P.E.I., which he affectionately calls a lobster trap because the beauty makes it so hard to leave.
Born in 1952, Bernard was taken with classical music after seeing flamenco guitarists on the Ed Sullivan Show.
It took a bit of work to get his first guitar though, said Blanchette.
“Paul wanted a guitar and his dad didn’t get him one, so Paul made one out of plywood and strings. Then, his father said, ‘I guess I better get you a guitar.’”
After his mother tuned it up, Bernard taught himself about 10 classical pieces over the next few years, while playing electric guitar in a band.
The drive to play continued to motivate Bernard. At university, he left in the middle of an exam to play his guitar under a tree.
On the strength of recordings of his classical pieces, Bernard was invited to the Royal Conservatory of Music at the University of Toronto and later became the first Canadian graduate from London’s Royal College of Music.
In the early 80s, Bernard moved back to P.E.I. to help with the family business and within five years opened a guitar academy and studio, which later became the well-known Paul’s Music Store. The store had over 400 students each week, many of whom went on to graduate from UPEI’s Music program.
In 1988, Paul produced his first album, Paul Bernard Spanish Guitar, followed by Majorca in 1992. He later formed the band Este Mundo, which won several awards of their own.
While it's great to add another award to his long career, Bernard still loves knowing his music can move people, said Blanchette.
“It’s just so nice to be appreciated, but any artist really just wants to share their art and to hear his piece, Isla Rosada, was very moving, and that other people can hear that and be affected by it. It’s a question of being happy to share and happy for being recognized.”
While the 2020 ECMAs don’t officially start until 9 p.m. Saturday night, the first slate of winners was announced Friday afternoon as part of the ECMAs pre-show awards on Facebook and YouTube, with P.E.I.’s The East Pointers taking home contemporary roots recording of the year their album Yours to Break.