It’s been a long cold lonely winter but what the Beatles also gently remind us, with a few melodic doo da doo doos thrown in, is: Here comes the sun.
It’s that enduring anthem of hope for better days ahead which will be featured this Thursday, June 17 during an exciting and unique new virtual fundraising concert hosted by Shepherds of Good Hope, one of the largest nonprofit organization in Ottawa dedicated to the needs of the homeless and impoverished. The event is called Sing for Hope, presented by the Zed family.
Sponsors also include law firms Emond Harnden and Norton Rose Fulbright, Giant Tiger and 3Sixty Public Affairs.
A $25 ticket will give attendees an online link to the show, which is being co-emceed by journalist Katie Griffin from CTV News Ottawa and Kurt Stoodley, a real estate professional with RE/MAX Affiliates. There's also the option to make an additional donation.
The 75-minute event will showcase a music video consisting of 11 local artists performing the Fab Four’s Here Comes the Sun, with each one of the musicians playing in a different part of Ottawa. Rideau Falls, Petrie Island, Sparks Street and Abbey Road (in Alta Vista) are just a few of the selected locations. Award-winning blues artist and guitarist JW-Jones, who released Sonic Departures last summer, produced the music video.
Sing for Hope is the Shepherds’ way of lifting everybody’s spirits and uniting residents of Ottawa through music, while also raising funds for an organization that’s on a mission to end chronic homelessness in our city by providing more permanent, supportive housing.
"As we come out of the pandemic, we want to bring everybody together across the city and celebrate"
Unless you’ve been living in a yellow submarine, you’ve probably been impacted by COVID-19 in some way.
“We’re coming out of a tough year; everybody is tired,” said Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of Shepherds of Good Hope and its foundation. “As we come out of the pandemic, we want to bring everybody together across the city and celebrate.”
The featured Ottawa musicians are Jones, singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, upright bass-player Angelique Francis, drummer Jeff Asselin, keyboardist Clayton Connell, Trinidadian-Canadian singer Drew Gonsalves, young singer-songwriter Davis Dewan, Ottawa city councillor Matt Luloff, sitar player Hardeep Buckshi, Indigenous hoop dancer and traditional singer Theland Kicknosway and jazz vocalist Michael Hanna. The artists are being compensated for their contributions through the event sponsorship.
Here Comes the Sun, written by George Harrison, was first released on the Beatles' Abbey Road album in 1969.
“The talent is outstanding,” said Freiheit of the lineup.
Also participating are some of the more musical clients from Shepherds of Good Hope.
“Musical talent exists everywhere, including shelters and supportive housing,” said Freiheit, who says the clients’ involvement was touching to watch.
“This has brought people together who’ve been through some very difficult times in their lives. To see that, be part of seeing the smiles and the joy that happens when you bring people together through music, it’s just so inspiring.”
The Shepherds really does help all walks of life, from poets and artists to one-time white-collar professionals to former students of the residential school system, said Freiheit.
“You have to remember that everyone had a life before they came to need shelter services,” she said.
It was David Gourlay, director of philanthropy for Shepherds, who came up with the concept for Sing for Hope, inspired by the Playing For Change movement. He got in touch with Jones this past winter to run his idea past the musician, who’d played at Gourlay’s 40th birthday celebration 10 years prior.
“He wasn’t sure how it would work at all,” recalled Jones. “He just said, ‘Is this possible?’ I started breaking down how possible it was but also how much work it would be and how complicated it would be, but how amazing the result would be.”
Jones assembled a small team that included audio engineer and producer Eric Eggleston and videographer Zachary Spence, who also has a background in music videos.
He selected a diverse group of Ottawa musicians, some of whom play instruments he wasn’t as familiar with.
“That was a challenge but also a really, really interesting and cool challenge because the result is a very worldly project. It really feels like it could have been shot anywhere in the world but it just so happens to be in Ottawa.
“I’ve loved every moment of it, honestly,” continued Jones, who’s a Juno-nominated artist for his blues music and a 2014 recipient of a Forty Under 40 award. “Being on those shoots and those recording sessions were really, really special. It just made me realize how much I enjoy experimenting with different instruments, people and approaches. That part has been really, really cool.”
Jones also enjoyed watching the musicians learn Here Comes the Sun, which breaks away from the conventional 4/4 time signature at the bridge. "The results are really, really incredible," he said of the collective performance.
When it comes to the Zed family, it’s not the first time it’s assisted the Shepherds. Ottawa philanthropist Gary Zed and his three young adult children, Olivia, Colin and Liam, launched an impactful campaign last December that included the organization as one of its beneficiaries.
The pandemic has underscored the importance of having strong communities and strong support systems to get through the darkest times together, noted Olivia Zed during an interview from New York City, where she works as an account executive with global PR agency FleishmanHillard.
“What makes the Shepherds of Good Hope so amazing is, not only are they providing essential services through things like meals and housing and shelter, but they also offer that community and that support for people who are the most vulnerable,” she said.
As much as Zed would love to go to live shows again, she’s grateful that she can catch the virtual fundraising concert from her home in Brooklyn.
“I think Sing for Hope is going to be an amazing experience,” she said, enthusiastically.
The community has really come through for the Shepherds during the pandemic, said Freiheit, while describing its support as “outstanding”.
“I had a donor call me directly to say, ‘Look, my wife and I would have gone on a vacation this year. We’re not doing that. We’re going to donate to you, instead.’”
Shepherds of Good Hope is known for its 268-bed emergency shelter in downtown Ottawa at the intersection of Murray Street and King Edward Avenue, but it also operates 226 supportive housing units in four locations across the city.
Freiheit said they’re on track to house 342 men and women by 2022.
Over the last six weeks, the organization has been moving individuals – including a 71-year-old woman in a wheelchair – from its shelters to its newest supportive housing residence, a 42-unit, apartment-style facility that recently opened at 765 Montreal Rd.
Shepherds also manages the 93-bed Hope Living supportive housing program in Kanata, The Oaks on Merivale Road and St. Andrew's Residence in Lowertown.
New projects include adding 48 units of supportive housing at 216 Murray St., with a community kitchen and full-day program; the renovation of a former domiciliary hostel on Merivale Road; and the addition of eight more units at Hope Living.
“We want to have more people housed than needing shelter beds,” explained Freiheit. “That’s really where we’re going as an organization, providing housing for people and giving them that hope that living in a shelter is not the last place they’re going to be.
“There is hope that people can move on, with the right support systems, and find a better life. We see it; we see it every day.”