Jesse Winchester, R.I.P.

Jesse Winchester died today at his home in Virginia, age 69. He had reportedly been suffering from cancer.

He is best known as a singer-songwriter from the United States but — like many Canadians — I think of him as a Draft Dodger, a designation most Canadians view as a badge of honour. During the Vietnam War Winchester was one of tens of thousands of Americans who fled to Canada, to avoid military service. Their exact numbers are uncertain, estimates range wildly from 20,000 to 60,000. Many of them influenced Canadian culture and political life.

Winchester arrived in Montreal in 1967, and became well-known as he toured Canada. He was able to return to the United States only after 1977 when President Jimmy Carter  pardoned the draft dodgers (but not deserters). In the U.S., where his songs were covered by countless other artists, Winchester was lately best known as an “anti-war icon,” as Rolling Stone called him in its obituary.

You can listen to him here, performing in studio at America’s National Public Radio, including songs from his 2009 album. His web site, here, features a tribute album by some of America’s best musicians.

In the video below he sings a cappella with Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris.

–Deborah Jones