Curtis (Shingoose) Jonnie (1946-2021)
Singer & Songwriter Shingoose
By Jim Ingebrigtsen
Curtis Jonnie was born in Winnipeg on October 26, 1946. He was an Ojibwe singer and songwriter and a member of the Roseau River Anishinaabe First nation in southern Manitoba. At the age of four he was adopted by a Mennonite family from Steinbach as part of the “60’s Scoop” which referred to the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system.
As a young boy he sang in church choirs and when he was 15 moved to the United States. There, he joined the Nebraska-based Boystown Concert Choir. In the 1960s into the early 1970s he performed with several rock and rhythm and blues bands in Washington and New York City. It was during this time he met Bruce Cockburn, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. It was Lennon who encouraged him to persevere in the face of discrimination that existed in parts of the music industry.
After the band he was in broke up, he moved to Toronto in 1973, where he performed solo in coffee houses, taking the name Shingoose after his grandfather's surname. Not long afterward he moved back to Winnipeg where he began performing as a singer-songwriter and began touring extensively across Canada performing in clubs, university campuses and on the folk festival circuit.
Shingoose, or simply Goose to his friends, was inspired by the American Indian Movement in the United States and began focusing on promoting Indigenous artists and musicians. His music and legacy made him a trailblazer for Indigenous music and activism in Canada.
Shingoose left his most lasting impression on Canada's music scene when he approached the Juno organizers over the lack of representation at their awards show. Alongside Buffy Sainte-Marie and Elaine Bomberry (Indigenous activist, promoter and producer) he campaigned for the Junos to recognize Indigenous artists within a new category. Their efforts led to the creation of the Best Music of Aboriginal Canada award in 1994. Shingoose also notably co-produced Indian Time, a Gemini-winning variety show that showcased Indigenous talent on television across Canada. His music eventually went on to gain him a Grammy nomination and many other accolades.
Shingoose was described as “a visionary ahead of his time” for founding the record label “Native Country” in 1975. In the 1980s he cofounded Native Multimedia Productions, a television production company which created the First Nations current affairs program Full Circle, later retitled First Nations Magazine for CKND-TV. In 1989 he became the host of a television special Indian Time for CTV. He was also a correspondent on First Nation issues for CTV’s Canada AM.
He also worked in aboriginal programming and policy development for TVOntario and as director of education for the Canada Arts Foundation. In 1991, he hosted a three-part documentary series on First nations music for CBC Radio. He later served as chair of the Juno Awards committee administering the Juno Award for Aboriginal Album of the Year
In 2012, he suffered a stroke which left him with partial paralysis. He was inducted into the Manitoba Music Hall of Fame the same year. Curtis (Shingoose) Jonnie died at a Winnipeg care home on January 12, 2021 of COVID-19. He was 74.
Jim Ingebrigtsen submits stories of Memorable Manitobans to Lifestyles 55. To see more than 12,000 others please go to mhs.mb.ca.