Education and Early Career
The daughter of a carnival worker father, Gale Garnett was born in New Zealand. She moved with her family to the United Kingdom, then to Canada at age 11. Her father died when she was 12, and at 14 she ran away to New York City to pursue an acting career. There she attended the High School of Performing Arts and appeared in Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, such as The World of Suzie Wong and The Threepenny Opera.
After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Garnett landed guest roles on such popular TV shows as Bonanza and 77 Sunset Strip, as well as a voiceover part in the hit film The Pink Panther (1963). During this period she changed her name from the Russian-sounding “Galina” to the more North American “Gale.” She did not add “Zoë” until many years later.
Garnett put her acting career on hold in 1963 after a singing engagement at a New York nightclub resulted in a recording contract with RCA. She wrote and recorded the song “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” for RCA Victor; folk singer Hoyt Axton also recorded it in 1963. But it was Garnett’s own version that became a smash folk hit, with her smooth, breezy alto bringing out the song’s bluesy, vagabond spirit.
Released as a single in 1964, the song shot to the tops of the charts: No. 1 on Cashbox and on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart; No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100; No. 2 on RPM; and No. 1 in her native New Zealand. It was as critically well-received as it was popular, with Billboard calling it a “gutsy and sincere sentimental pop-folk ballad.” RCA capitalized on the success by releasing Garnett’s debut album, My Kind of Folk Songs (1964), and the underage Garnett toured the nightclub and university circuits in major US cities through 1964 and 1965. She also performed on high profile TV variety shows such as American Bandstand, Shindig! and The Red Skelton Show.
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” went on to sell well over three million copies. It earned Garnett a gold record in the US and won the 1965 Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording, beating out Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Garnett also received Grammy nominations for Best Accompaniment Arrangement and Female Vocal Performance.
She followed this success in 1965 with a tour of New Zealand and the minor hit, “Lovin’ Place,” her only other successful single. Garnett’s other solo albums were Lovin’ Place (1965), The Many Faces of Gale Garnett (1965), Variety is the Spice of Gale Garnett (1965), New Adventures (1966) and Gale Garnett Sings About Flying and Rainbows and Love and Other Groovy Things (1967). She later formed the band the Gentle Reign and embraced the psychedelic sound, recording An Audience with the King of Wands (1968) and Sausalito Heliport (1969) for Columbia Records.
By the 1970s, Garnett grew disillusioned with the music industry and gradually returned to acting, re-establishing a successful career in film and television in Canada and the US. She appeared in the first Canadian production of the rock musical Hair, and appeared in productions at the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival. Other credits from the 1970s included a part on Broadway in Ulysses in Nighttown (1974) and a guest role on Kojak (1975).
Garnett also appeared in such notableCanadian film and television productions as King of Kensington (1978), The Littlest Hobo (1980), Tribute (1980) — which earned her a Genie Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role — Thirty TwoShort Films about Glenn Gould (1993), the box office hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) and Flashpoint (2011). Other theatre and writing credits include her one-person shows Life After Latex and the award-winning Gale Garnett and Company.
While maintaining her acting career, Garnett branched out into writing book and arts reviews, as well as essays. She published her first novel, Visible Amazement, in 1999, followed by Transient Dancing (2003), Savage Adoration (2009) and the novella Room Tone (2007). Her first collection of poetry, Pomegranate Moments, was published in 2015.
Organizational Involvement and Activism
From 2007 to 2013, Garnett chaired the International Affairs Committee of the Writers’ Union of Canada. She has been a board member of ACTRA, PEN and Toronto’s Modern Times Stage Company, and has organized donations of Canadian books for Ugandan orphans.
Garnett’s hit song “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” remains one of the best-loved songs of the 1960s folk music era, and represents one of the earliest Grammy Awards and gold records earned by a Canadian — a commendable feat in an era well before Canadian pop musicians were an established force in the US music industry. The song has been covered by numerous artists, including Dean Martin, Wayne Newton, Dolly Parton, and Sonny and Cher. It was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015.
- Best Folk Recording (“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”), Grammy Awards (1965)
- Excellence in Solo Performance (Gale Garnett and Company), The Villager Awards (1984)
- Inductee (“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”), Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (2015)