Multi-award winning singer/songwriter Gordie Sampson will be Cape Breton’s only 2020 high school graduate who can boast he’s won a Grammy, four Junos and multiple ECMAs.
Nor will any other grad be able to say songs they’ve co-written have been recorded by industry big hitters like Carrie Underwood, The Rankin Family, Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton.
But the 48-year-old Big Pond native can now say he’s Riverview High School’s only Grammy-winning graduate.
“Gordie is definitely one of our most successful graduates. We don’t have many Grammy award winners,” said principal Joe Chisholm.
“We’ve had a lot of other successful grads who have gone on to get honorary doctorates, people in the foreign service… as well as in the medical field and armed forces. But Gordie is one of our most famous.”
A self-taught musician whose musical training came from his mother Flo, Sampson started playing in bands when he was 15. As his music interest grew, his motivation for school diminished.
“It was just a case of me not applying myself to school,” Sampson said during a phone interview from Cheticamp where he and his family are quarantining for 14 days after arriving from the U.S.
“The music had kicked in pretty hard by then and school couldn’t compete.”
Thirty years later, thanks to the course recovery program offered by the Cape Breton Regional-Victoria Centre for Education, Sampson was able to write, film and edit a short video to make up the two credits he was missing for his high school diploma.
“In the video, Gordie acknowledges he was a part of the yearbook in 1989 and did some cartoons for it,” said Chisholm, who praised the video. “It was nice for the students to have something extra this year (in the packages we sent to them which included the video.)”
Sampson said he is grateful Chisholm reached out to him five years ago about graduating through the course recovery program.
Due to busy schedules, they weren’t able to focus on meeting the requirements for Sampson’s graduation until this year.
“COVID-19 was a pandemic, but it opened a lot of doors for us,” Chisholm said. “It gave us the opportunity to… do some of the work required to get the course recovery done.”
Sampson said he’s “honoured” to be getting his diploma 30 years after he left school.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to complete but didn’t get the chance,” he said.
“I took one night school class after high school with the intent to take another one but when you're traveling, it’s hard to do it because you can’t make class. It wasn’t very feasible.”
The pandemic, which forced much of the world to shut down, also had positive gain for songwriters, according to Sampson. Because they had no choice but to learn how to virtually write together, he said artists now can easily work together from cities around the world because they know the software to use and how to deal with issues like delays
The last 10 summers, Sampson has been hosting young, up-and-coming songwriters for his workshop called Songcamp. Held in Ingonish, the artists are teamed up into groups of three, given a coach who is an established recording artist and taught how to co-write.
Artists like Quake Matthews, Mo Kenny and Mitchell Bailey have participated in Songcamp over the years and Port Cities came together through the summer creative weeks
For the 11th year this year, Sampson said they already planned to take it off before the pandemic hit and celebrate 10 years of Songcamp success through an anniversary documentary.
“Songcamp is a tricky thing to shoot. Every time you bring someone into the room who isn’t a part of the songwriting, that will influence the songwriting process,” he said.
“(The camera crew who) filmed it did an awesome job. They were aware of this and they filmed in an inconspicuous way.”
The documentary can be found at the Gordie Sampson Songcamp Youtube page.
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