Bruce Douglas Cockburn OC (/ˈkbərn/ KOH-bərn; born May 27, 1945)[1] is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. His song styles range from folk to folk- and jazz-influenced rock to soundscapes accompanying spoken stories. His lyrics reflect interests in spirituality, human rights, environmental issues, and relationships, and describe his experiences in Central America and Africa.

Bruce Cockburn
Cockburn performing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2007
Background information
Birth nameBruce Douglas Cockburn
Born (1945-05-27) May 27, 1945 (age 79)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
GenresFolk, rock
Instrument(s)Guitar, vocals
Years active1967–present

Cockburn has written more than 350 songs on 34 albums over a career spanning five decades,[2] of which 22 have received a Canadian gold or platinum certification as of 2018,[3] and he has sold more than one million albums in Canada alone. In 2014, Cockburn released his memoirs, Rumours of Glory.

Early life and education


Cockburn was born in 1945 in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent some time at his grandfather's farm outside of Chelsea, Quebec, but he grew up in Westboro, which was a suburb of Ottawa when he was a teenager. His father, Doug Cockburn, was a radiologist, eventually becoming head of diagnostic x-ray at the Ottawa Civic Hospital.[4] He found his first guitar in his grandmother's attic around 1959, adorned it with gold stars, and used it to play along to radio hits.[5] When his first guitar teacher, Hank Sims, declared this instrument unplayable, his parents bought him a Kay archtop with flat wound strings and a DeArmond pickup.[6]

Later he was taught piano and music theory by Peter Hall, the organist at Westboro United Church which Cockburn and his family attended. Cockburn had been listening to jazz and wanted to learn musical composition. Hall encouraged him and, along with his friend Bob Lamble, a lot of time was spent at Hall's house listening to and discussing jazz.[7]

Cockburn attended Nepean High School, where his 1964 yearbook photo states his desire "to become a musician".[8] After graduating, he took a boat to Europe and busked in Paris.[9]

Cockburn attended Berklee School of Music in Boston, where his studies included jazz composition, for three semesters between 1964 and 1966. That year he dropped out and joined an Ottawa band called The Children, which lasted for about a year.



Early career


In early 1967 he joined the final lineup of the Esquires. He moved to Toronto that summer to form The Flying Circus with Marty Fisher and Gordon MacBain, former Bobby Kris & The Imperials members, and Neil Lillie, ex-Tripp member. The group recorded some material in late 1967 (which remains unreleased) before changing its name to Olivus in the spring of 1968, by which time Lillie (who changed his name to Neil Merryweather) had been replaced by Dennis Pendrith from Livingstone's Journey. Olivus opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream in April 1968.[10] That summer Cockburn broke up the band with the intention of going solo, but ended up in the band 3's a Crowd with David Wiffen, Colleen Peterson, and Richard Patterson, who had been a co-member of The Children. Cockburn left 3's a Crowd in the spring of 1969 to pursue a solo career.

Cockburn's first solo appearance was at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1967, and in 1969 he was a headliner.[11] In 1970 he released his self-titled, solo album. A single, "Going to the Country", appeared on the RPM Top 50 Canadian Chart.[12]

Cockburn's guitar work and songwriting won him an enthusiastic following. His early work featured rural and nautical imagery and Biblical metaphors. Raised as an agnostic, early in his career he became a Christian.[13] Many of his albums from the 1970s refer to Christian themes, which in turn inform his concerns for human rights and environmentalism. His references to Christianity include the Grail imagery of 20th-century Christian poet Charles Williams and the ideas of theologian Harvey Cox.[14]

In 1970 Cockburn became partners with Bernie Finkelstein in the music publishing firm Golden Mountain Music.[15] He won the Juno for Canadian Folksinger of the Year, three years in a row, 1971–73.[16] He was nominated for Canadian Folksinger of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year at the 1974 Juno Awards.[17]

While Cockburn had been popular in Canada for years, he did not have a big impact in the United States until 1979, with the release of the album Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws. The album's first single, "Wondering Where the Lions Are", reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in June 1980, earning Cockburn an appearance on NBC's TV show Saturday Night Live. Cockburn's label, True North Records, also signed a distribution deal with Recordi Records in Italy.[18]

1980s and 1990s


Through the 1980s Cockburn's songwriting became increasingly urban, global and political as he became more involved with progressive causes. His political concerns were first hinted at on the albums: Humans, Inner City Front and The Trouble with Normal. They became more evident in 1984, with his second US radio hit, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (No. 88 in the US[19]) from the Stealing Fire album. He had written the song a year earlier, after visiting Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present. His internationalist bent is reflected in the many world music influences in his music, including reggae and Latin music.

In 1991 Intrepid Records released Kick at the Darkness, a tribute album to Cockburn whose title comes from a phrase in his song "Lovers in a Dangerous Time". It features the Barenaked Ladies' cover of that song, which became their first Top 40 hit and an element in their early success. This lyric was also referenced by U2 in their song "God Part II" from their album Rattle and Hum. Also in 1991, three of Cockburn's songs were listed in a Toronto Star survey among Toronto's top songs of all time.[20]

In the early 1990s, Cockburn teamed with T Bone Burnett for two albums, Nothing but a Burning Light and Dart to the Heart. The latter included a song, "Closer to the Light", inspired by the death of songwriter Mark Heard, a close friend of Cockburn and Burnett. Cockburn frequently refers to Heard as his favourite songwriter and he was one of many artists who paid tribute to Heard on an album and video titled Strong Hand of Love.

Bruce Cockburn at Markham Jazz Festival 2014



In 2001 Cockburn performed as part of the Music Without Borders concert, a benefit for the United Nations Donor Alert Appeal, which raised funds for refugees from Afghanistan, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.[21]

In January 2003 Cockburn finished recording his 21st album, You've Never Seen Everything, which features contributions from Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Sam Phillips, Sarah Harmer, Hugh Marsh, Jonell Mosser, Larry Taylor and Steven Hodges.

Some of Cockburn's previously published material had been collected in several albums: Resume, Mummy Dust, and Waiting for a Miracle. His first greatest hits collection was Anything Anytime Anywhere: Singles 1979–2002, released in 2002.

Cockburn performed a set at the Live 8 concert in Barrie, Ontario, on July 2, 2005. Speechless, an instrumental compilation of new and previously released material, was released on October 24, 2005. His 22nd album, Life Short Call Now, was released on July 18, 2006.

Canadian senator and retired general Roméo Dallaire, who is active in humanitarian fundraising and promoting awareness, appeared on stage at the University of Victoria with Cockburn. The October 4, 2008, concert was held to aid the plight of child soldiers.[22]

In 2009 Cockburn travelled to Afghanistan to visit his brother, Medical Officer Capt. John Cockburn, and to play a concert for Canadian troops. He performed his 1984 song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" and was temporarily awarded an actual rocket launcher by the military. Cockburn has stated that, while unsure of the original Invasion of Afghanistan, he supported Canada's role there.[23]

Cockburn released the studio album Small Source of Comfort in 2011.

In 2018, Cockburn's album Bone on Bone, was named Contemporary Roots Album of the Year at the Juno Awards.[24]



Cockburn's songwriting is often political, expressing concern for the environment and the welfare of indigenous peoples. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians writes, "Cockburn always risked an outspoken stand in his work, taking on issues and morality to the detriment of his popular appeal. No artist since Phil Ochs has taken such strong political stands."[25] He has worked with relief agency Oxfam, travelling to Central America in 1983, and with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The song "Mines of Mozambique" (The Charity of Night) reflects his observations of that country during a visit in 1995. Cockburn is affiliated with the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, twice visiting Nepal with the charity, in 1987 and 2007.[26]

Songs on these themes include "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (Stealing Fire), an angry response to the plight of refugees in Central America; "Stolen Land" (Waiting for a Miracle), about the land claims of British Columbia's Haida people; and "If a Tree Falls" (Big Circumstance)—one of Cockburn's best-known songs—decrying the deforestation of the Amazon.[27]

Documentaries and soundtracks


Cockburn wrote and performed the theme song for the children's television series Franklin. He composed and performed, with Hugh Marsh, the music for the National Film Board of Canada documentary feature Waterwalker (1984), directed by Bill Mason. He also composed two songs for the classic English-Canadian film Goin' Down the Road (1970), directed by Donald Shebib.

In 1998 Cockburn travelled with filmmaker Robert Lang to Mali, West Africa, where he jammed with Grammy Award-winning blues musician Ali Farka Toure and kora master Toumani Diabate. The month-long journey was documented in the film River of Sand, which won the Regard Canadien award for best documentary at the Vues d'Afrique Film Festival in Montreal. It was also invited for competition at the International Festival of Environmental Films in Paris.[28]

In 2007 Cockburn's music was featured in the movie adaptation of Irvine Welsh's best-selling novel Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance.

A documentary film, Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage,[29] was released in 2013 on television and a brief theatrical showing; directed by Joel Goldberg, gave a rare look into Cockburn's music, life and politics.

In 2018, Cockburn contributed the song "3 Al Purdys" to the compilation album The Al Purdy Songbook.[30]

Covers and tributes


A number of artists have covered Cockburn's songs, including:

Awards and honours




Cockburn was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 and was promoted to Officer in 2002. In 1998, he received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.[32]

He has received thirteen Juno Awards,[33] and in 2001, during the 30th Annual Juno Awards ceremony, Cockburn was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The Cockburn tribute during the awards included taped testimonials from U2's Bono, Jackson Browne, Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, and Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett. That year he was presented with a SOCAN Folk/Roots award.[34]

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters inducted Cockburn into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame on October 22, 2002, in Vancouver. On November 27, 2002, the CBC's Life and Times series aired a special feature on Cockburn titled The Life and Times of Bruce Cockburn.

In 2007 Cockburn received three honorary doctorates, the fourth, fifth and sixth of his career. In early May he received an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and later in the month he received an Honorary Doctor of Letters at the convocation of Memorial University of Newfoundland for his lifelong contributions to Canadian music, culture and social activism. He was then awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Cockburn previously received honorary doctorates from York University in Toronto, Berklee College of Music, and St. Thomas University in New Brunswick.[35] He received an Honorary Doctorate awarded by McMaster University in 2009.[36] In June 2014, Cockburn received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Laurentian University in Sudbury,[37] and Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, from Carleton University, in Ottawa.[38]



Cockburn received Earth Day Canada's Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Award in 2010,[39] and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.[40] On November 19, 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, at the 2012 SOCAN Awards in Toronto.[41] On February 15, 2017, he received the People's Voice Award in Kansas City from Folk Alliance International.[42] On September 23, 2017, Cockburn was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at Massey Hall in Toronto.[43]



On June 14, 2024, Cockburn received an Honorary Doctorate in Music from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Personal life


Cockburn was married from 1969 to 1980 to Kitty Macaulay and has a daughter Jenny, born in 1975, from that marriage.[44][45] In his memoir, he describes the moment he became a Christian. While on vacation in Sweden with Kitty, he experienced a personal crisis, arising from conflict in their marriage. He prayed and asked Jesus for help. In that moment, he felt Jesus in the room, just as he had at their wedding.[46]

Cockburn married his longtime girlfriend M. J. Hannett in 2011, shortly after the birth of his second daughter, Iona.[47][48]

As of 2014, Cockburn and his family reside in the San Francisco area, where Cockburn wrote his memoirs.[49]




  1. ^ Allen, 66
  2. ^ Allen, 79
  3. ^ Allen, 65. Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, Stealing Fire and Waiting for a Miracle received a Canadian platinum certification.
  4. ^ Cockburn, pp. 5,8 & 12
  5. ^ " – Canada's Breaking News, Entertainment, Music, Life & Style and Email". September 29, 2009. Archived from the original on June 6, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  6. ^ Cockburn, p. 24
  7. ^ Cockburn, p. 36
  8. ^ "Bruce Cockburn – Bio". Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  9. ^ Zwerin, Mike. "Bruce Cockburn, a Canadian Secret." International Herald Tribune, September 1, 1999, p. 11. Gale Power Search. Accessed June 5, 2018.
  10. ^ Cockburn, pp. 89, 93 & 94
  11. ^ Cockburn, pp. 100–101
  12. ^ "Top 50 Canadian Chart". RPM Magazine. July 25, 1970.
  13. ^ "I was brought up as an agnostic … and when I first became a Christian in the Seventies I didn't really know what it was I'd adopted." Faith in Practice: Holding on to the Mystery of Love, by Bruce Cockburn as told to Cole Morton, Third Way, September 1994, page 15.
  14. ^ Adria, Marco, "Making Contact with Bruce Cockburn", Music of Our Times: Eight Canadian Singer-Songwriters (Toronto: Lorimer, 1990), p. 97.
  15. ^ McPherson, David (Fall 2012). "Bernie Finkelstein's Golden Mountain". Words and Music.
  16. ^ Cockburn, p. 121
  17. ^ "Juno Award Nominations Listed". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. March 9, 1974. p. 54.
  18. ^ "Cockburn Push". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. June 2, 1979. pp. 89–. ISSN 0006-2510.
  19. ^ "Billboard Hot 100: February 16, 1985". Billboard. Retrieved February 13, 2021.
  20. ^ Mackowycz, Bob (November 30, 1991). "T.O.'s top songs of all time". Toronto Star. p. K3.
  21. ^ "LIVE: Music Without Borders"[usurped]. Chart Attack, October 22, 2001. Review by Paul Gangadeen
  22. ^ Victoria Times Colonist, April 17, 2008
  23. ^ CBC. "Cockburn visits brother in Afghanistan". Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  24. ^ "Junos 2018: the complete list of winners". CBC News, · March 25, 2018
  25. ^ Bordowitz, Hank (2001). "Cockburn, Bruce." In N. Slonimsky & L. Kuhn (eds.), Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (Vol. 1, p. 673). New York: Schirmer. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed June 5, 2018).
  26. ^ Allen, p. 80
  27. ^ Allen, pp. 81–83
  28. ^ "River of Sand". Archived from the original on August 30, 2013.
  29. ^ "Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage". Vision TV Channel Canada. June 23, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  30. ^ "Canadian poet Al Purdy inspires songs by Jason Collett, Sarah Harmer and more" Archived February 3, 2019, at the Wayback Machine. Now, January 22, 2019.
  31. ^ "Creation Dream by Michael Occhipinti". Retrieved April 17, 2014. Cockburn plays on the track 'Pacing the Cage'
  32. ^ "Bruce Cockburn – biography". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  33. ^ Allen, 65
  34. ^ "The Guess Who, Murray McLauchlan Win Big At SOCAN"[usurped]. Chart Attack, November 20, 2001
  35. ^ "Marketing & Communications | index". Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  36. ^ "Bruce Cockburn addresses graduates". Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  37. ^ "Laurentian University Recognizes four eminent Canadians in 2014". Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  38. ^ "Bruce Cockburn Receives Honorary Degree from Carleton University". June 12, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  39. ^ "Song sung green: Earth Day Canada recognizes Bruce Cockburn for his outstanding commitment to the environment." Alternatives Journal, vol. 36, no. 5, 2010, p. 44+. General OneFile. Accessed June 5, 2018.
  40. ^ "Diamond Jubilee Gala toasts exceptional Canadians". CBC. June 18, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
  41. ^ "2012 SOCAN AWARDS". Archived from the original on October 18, 2017. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  42. ^ "The People's Voice Award". Folk Alliance International. March 31, 2022. Retrieved March 31, 2022.
  43. ^ "CSHF Announces 2017 Inductees". May 16, 2017. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  44. ^ Cockburn, p. 154
  45. ^ Feniak, Peter (March 17, 2016). "Good Times interview Bruce Cockburn". Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  46. ^ Cockburn, pp. 132–133
  47. ^ "Bruce Cockburn, 66, and girlfriend welcome new baby". Toronto Star. November 22, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2014 – via
  48. ^ Parry, Nigel. "Bruce Cockburn online – Home". The Cockburn Project. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  49. ^ "Bruce Cockburn is living in Frisco". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on June 15, 2014. Retrieved May 8, 2014 – via


  • Allen, Aaron S. (2013). "Bruce Cockburn: Canadian, Christian, Conservationist". In Weglarz, Kristine; Pedelty, Mark (eds.). Political Rock. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 9781409446224.
  • Cockburn, Bruce (2014). Rumours of Glory. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-1-44342-072-3.