With a natural talent for telling stories through music, rising Canadian country artist Jade Turner continues to share and support the Indigenous culture that inspires her. Recognized for her original songwriting and stunning music videos, the member of Misipawistik Cree Nation has already established a diverse audience attracted to her energetic stage presence and singles like “Somehow Someone,” “Hangover Blues,” and “Worth.”
“I can only have my own stories, so if I want the music to be true to me, it all has to be coming from my point of view. The stories I tell will be different but I feel we’re all the same in different ways,” she says. “In the communities where I grew up, we’re storytellers and we’ve always been storytellers. Country has been a huge part of my life because it’s a storytelling genre.”
Turner and her family are from Misipawistik Cree Nation, known in English as “Grand Rapids.” She was raised in the northern communities of Manitoba, where local radio stations played Indigenous music as well as songs by country artists. She often competed in singing contests as a kid, even though she lived in a lot of different communities as her mother moved frequently with her nursing job.
After being bullied at one school when she was 7 or 8 years old, Turner pretended to get on the school bus one morning but actually skipped classes and hid in the woods, biding her time until it was time to go back home. “It was the middle of winter and I just sat there writing songs all day and humming songs to myself,” she recalls. “That’s the earliest time I can remember writing – as far back as I can remember.”
After that incident Turner was sent to live with her father in Misipawistik Cree Nation, where he served as chief, until her mother completed her term. In the years that followed, taking comfort in music helped Turner get through the bullying and also gave her an outlet to express herself. “I love writing songs but I love singing the most. I used to belt everything when I was a kid. I felt really bad for my parents because they used to have to listen to me,” she says, laughing. “I always sang, but I would say that within the last five or six years, I have become really comfortable and unapologetic with my voice.”
In the poignant “Somehow Someone,” Turner sings about the spiritual connection that songwriting provides, while its music video captures the natural beauty around her. “I follow my culture and I follow the land. The land is where I go to pray and heal,” she says. “That’s important for me to showcase as well because we only have one home. We only have one earth and to take care of it is a big message for me. Every single part of the earth is a gift.”
Turner lives in Selkirk, Manitoba, and works as a millwright, also called an industrial mechanic. For some jobs she drives four hours to the site, then stays for a week before driving four hours home. The time on the road has proven beneficial for her songwriting output. Although she knows that her songwriting approach is unusual, it’s already helped her earn nominations from the Western Canadian Music Awards and the Manitoba Country Music Awards – with the latter naming her the Emerging Artist of the Year in 2018.
“I have a really weird way of writing because I don’t play an instrument,” she says. “I say to the universe, ‘OK, send me a song!’ I get in that mindset and I usually start writing from there. I do a lot of writing on my own. I sing into my phone and once I’ve finished the entire song, I take it to my producer and we figure out all the music together. It’s really fun but it’s different.”
One of Turner’s most powerful original releases is “Worth.” It’s an emotional centerpiece of her 2017 debut album, North Country, which was named Best Country Album at the Indigenous Music Awards in 2017. The cinematic music video for “Worth” also received a nomination. “I wrote ‘Worth’ in about 10 minutes,” she says. “I think of it as a gift, to be honest. It was a gift to share that. I thought, ‘I really want to write a song for my people to know that they are worth so much more than they think they are, or what people tell them they are.’”
By taking creative risks, she’s also expanded her audience. Since the digital release of “Hangover Blues” in early 2021, it has become her most-streamed single, even though it’s a stylistic departure. “I was sitting my sunroom when I wrote that song. That was a fun one to write and it’s super funny,” she says. “It is an anthem telling a woman not to be the second choice. It was more bluesy so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. But I was able to really use my voice on that song. On a lot of songs that I write, I don’t have that ability to sing the way I could sing on that one, so I was really excited about that! I could belt out what I felt.”
After her last album North Country, a pregnancy led to an extended bed rest, and then the pandemic hit which has put her touring and recording plans on hold. Now with a young son and more new songs on the way, she’s as determined as ever to share her music with the world. “I love to hit heartstrings with this music,” she says. “I don’t know why it always ends up that way but it does — that’s usually what I end up writing. But I also love writing fun songs because I love to make people laugh. I like to get people’s feelings out there, no matter what it is.”
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