Benoit, Émile

Émile (Joseph) Benoit. Fiddler, composer, storyteller, b Black Duck Rock, Port au Port peninsula, Nfld, 24 Mar 1913, d Stephenville, Nfld, 3 Sep 1992; honorary LLD (Memorial 1988). He began playing the violin at 12 and first performed publicly at 16. While variously employed as a fisherman, logger, carpenter, and blacksmith, Benoit also enjoyed a local reputation as a fiddler at weddings and dances along the Port au Port peninsula. At 62, he began to play elsewhere in Newfoundland and subsequently appeared at music and folk festivals across Canada, including the Mariposa Festival and Toronto's Harbourfront (1987). He also performed in the USA (eg, the 1988 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival) and in France.

By his own description (quoted in the Globe and Mail), his fiddling style was 'a little bit of Scots, a little bit of Irish, a little bit of Québécois, a little bit of French - all mixed together.' Benoit wrote several hundred fiddle tunes; the best known is 'Emile's Dream' which, according to one of his stories, came to him in a dream. Other popular Benoit pieces include the 'Joe Smallwood,' 'Washroom,' and 'Flying' reels. His tunes have been recorded by Figgy Duff, Kelly Russell, Touchstone, and the Wonderful Grand Band.

Benoit appeared on the television show Ninety Minutes Live with Peter Gzowski, in the NFB film From the Heart: Canadian Folk Artists, and in films aired on BBC and at Expo 86. He was the recipient of many awards, including the Médaille Léger Comeau from the Société Nationale de l'Acadie (1988), the Prix Roger Champagne from the Fédération des Francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador for his contribution to Newfoundland's francophones (also in 1988), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (1992). He continued to perform until July 1992, recording an album with members of Figgy Duff. The East Coast Music Awards honoured Benoit posthumously in 1993.