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Singer-songwriter William Prince: From the Grand Ole Opry to the Cambridge Folk Festival

Canadian country/folk/ Americana singer-songwriter William Prince’s career is very much on the rise – exemplified earlier this year when he was invited to appear on the famed Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, the Home of Country Music.

William Prince. Picture: Magdalena Wosinska
William Prince. Picture: Magdalena Wosinska

Over the course of four albums, the indigenous performer who grew up on the Peguis First Nation reserve in Manitoba has created an impressive body of work that traces a remarkable journey from the reserve to playing sold-out shows across continents.

William will be making clear what all the (well-deserved) fuss is about when he appears on the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival this Sunday (July 30).

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from Vancouver, where he has been doing a couple of shows – including the Vancouver Folk Music Festival – and taking a “mini vacation”, the softly-spoken musician, who came to the UK in January for UK Americana Music Week, says his visit to Cherry Hinton Hall will be his first, although he has been aware of the Cambridge Folk Festival for some time.

“My manager’s spoken about it and a number of people I know from over there have talked about it,” he notes, “so I’m pretty eager to go and see it with my own eyes.”

The Folk Festival is William’s only UK date this summer. “It’s an important festival for aligning things for the fall,” he says, “I’ll be back in the fall time – I have a tour announced, a bunch of dates in November, and everybody speaks really highly of this one [the Folk Festival] so it was just important that we go do it while we had the invite.”

Released in April, William’s latest LP is titled Stand in the Joy. Boasting 10 tracks that demonstrate the artist’s natural gift for melody, the songs that particularly stand out for me are what I would consider to be the ‘countriest’, namely Broken Heart of Mine, Pasadena and Easier and Harder.

“The reaction [to the album] has been pretty great, I’d say,” observes William, who has collaborated with some of Canada’s most well-known acts, including Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Tragically Hip and Serena Ryder. “The whole thing kind of started with the Grand Ole Opry in February.

“In February we were starting the press tour, I guess you could say, and then I got to tour with [American husband and wife duo] The War and Treaty the night before the album came out.

“We started our month-long tour of the eastern United States the day before it came out and I got to play it in all these different cities that I’d never been to – Louisville, Kentucky, up to Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, all the cities along the east coast, so New York... and I’d stop for interviews in Boston and stuff…

“It took us to Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio – all cities I’d never been to, and that’s about the best start you can hope for, is playing your new record in a brand new place with a full audience. It was a really special run.

“Opening for The War and Treaty’s been really great, and then I just had my hometown festival in Winnipeg last week, Winnipeg Folk Fest, and we were over at Ottawa Jazz Fest, so it’s been a pretty steady flow of things since we announced the record was coming out – I’m happy with it.”

Earthly Days (2018) was the record which introduced William Prince to the world, and he followed it up with two full albums in 2020 – Reliever and Gospel First Nation.

His partner, Alyshia Grace, is a member of his band and is also pictured with him on the cover of Stand in the Joy.

“She sings harmonies, she’s our back-up singer,” explains William, who started writing songs for his father, a gospel singer, while still in his teens, “and takes care of my life in general and she’s a great friend and partner. She keeps me company, keeps everybody’s spirit up – she’s great.”

Looking back on his experience at the Opry, where so many legends of country music have performed, William says: “It was really special when it happened because there’s just so much history there, of all the country music that I grew up loving, and it was a really big win for me.

“I’m only one of a handful of First Nations performers that have ever played the stage, and to be there felt like we were moving the needle a little bit and I’ll never forget it because it’s quite a special experience, from start to finish – when you pull in and you have your own parking space with your name on it and when you say goodnight to everybody and they all cheer you heading out the door.”

[Read more: Our guide, including times, to the 2023 Cambridge Folk Festival, Musician Doug Levitt: Finding inspiration from travelling on the Greyhound bus]

See William Prince at the Cambridge Folk Festival this Sunday (July 30).You can also catch him on tour in the UK later in the year.

Visit cambridgelive.org.uk/folk-festival and to check tour dates, go to williamprincemusic.com.

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