The greatest story never told, this formidable and gorgeously written biography documents the amazing and controversial short life of Calixa Lavallée–the composer of “O Canada”–and the tumult of 19th-century North America.
The story of “O Canada” is one of the great unknowns of our collective lives. No longer. This formidable and gorgeously written tale documents the history of this song of a nation, from its origins in French Canada in the years just after Confederation to the surprisingly controversial story of its adoption as Canada’s national anthem a hundred years later.
Song of a Nation is also the extraordinary and mysterious story of Calixa Lavallée–the anthem’s French-Canadian composer–and his compelling, almost unbelievable personal journey: his early life as a blackface minstrel, travelling throughout the United States for more than a decade; his service for the Union Army in the American Civil War; his production of the first opera in Quebec; and, in a final act, becoming a leading figure in American music education. To understand “O Canada,” and to understand the man who wrote it, is to return to the Canada of the mid-1800s, just forming as a nation, bringing together ancient racial hatreds and novel political possibilities. More than just a song, in its own story “O Canada” evokes the history of a country creating an identity for itself out of the unique forces and rivalries of French and English Canada, and looking to the infinite possibilities that lay ahead.