A Cape Breton teenager said she was almost moved to tears when she learned her Mi’kmaq rendition of The Beatles’ classic song “Blackbird” had earned her a shoutout from none other than Paul McCartney.
Emma Stevens said she and her music teacher, Carter Chiasson, first heard McCartney had singled her out for praise through comments on YouTube. They didn’t believe it until they saw video of the comments.
“I wanted to cry,” she said.
The McCartney moment was surreal for the 10th grader, who said she learned to love The Beatles thanks to her father, whom she described as a “superfan.”
“I grew up on that stuff,” she said. “He used to play The Beatles all the time when I was a kid.”
In concert footage published Sunday on Twitter by the United Nations’ human settlements and youth branch, McCartney praises Stevens’ recording and encourages his fans to look it up online.
“There’s an incredible version a Canadian girl has done, you can see it on YouTube. It’s in her native language,” McCartney told fans in Lexington, Ky.
“It’s really cool. Check it out,” he said a moment later.
Stevens and her classmates at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, N.S., recorded the song to highlight the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, which seeks to raise awareness of threats to Indigenous languages across the world.
Chiasson produced the video, and the lyrics were translated into Mi’kmaq by another community member, Katani Julian.
Chiasson said “Blackbird” was chosen partly because of its melody, but also because of what he describes as its “hidden social message.”
“Paul actually wrote it in response to racism he witnessed towards black women when he was younger, so there are some parallels with that and what First Nations people, especially young female First Nations people, are experiencing in Canada today,” he said in a phone interview.
As of Tuesday evening, the video had been viewed more than 540,000 times since it was uploaded to YouTube on April 25.
Stevens’ performance earned her worldwide attention, including a trip to a UN-Habitat Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, where she performed last week and delivered a short speech that highlighted the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women in Canada.
At 16, Stevens is already a seasoned performer who has been singing publicly in public since the age of 10.
She said that while all the attention makes her a bit “anxious,” she’s also excited to share her native language, and hopefully inspire young Indigenous people to reconnect with it.
“There are some kids who speak it in our community, but not a lot,” she said. “They’re starting to speak English more because none of their friends understand it, and I kind of want to change that.”
In the future, she said she’s like to record an album. She’s also working on a new original song about missing and murdered Indigenous women, which she and Chiasson are hoping to release in July.
McCartney is the writer and original performer of “Blackbird,” which first appeared on The Beatles’ self-titled 1968 album, known as the White Album. The 76-year-old did not publicly respond to a tweet from UN-Habitat Youth proposing a duet with Stevens when his current tour comes to Vancouver on July 6.
Stevens, however, is more than willing.
“Yeah, hit me up!” she said, when asked about the possibility of a duet with the famous ex-Beatle.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press