When Jack White, the driving force behind rock's Grammy-winning band the White Stripes, said recently that he thought he was related to Cape Breton's famous fiddlers Buddy MacMaster, Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, not a few media types suggested that the claim be taken with a grain of salt.
But it turns out to be true. And not only is White -- born John Anthony Gillis in Detroit in July, 1975 -- related to the MacIsaacs and MacMasters, he's a third cousin to hockey star Al MacInnis, a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner with the Calgary Flames in the late 1980s.
Talk of White's Nova Scotia ancestry intensified last week after he announced that the White Stripes -- himself and ex-wife Meg White, on drums -- would be marking their 10th anniversary with a concert July 14 at the 761-seat, 80-year-old Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, on the eastern shore of Cape Breton Island. It's part of an 18-city Canadian tour the band is undertaking in support of its new album, Icky Thump, with Glace Bay (population 17,000) just one of several smaller, semi-out-of-the-way centres on the itinerary.
Confirmation of Jack White's blood connection to MacIsaac et al. was provided yesterday by Antigonish lawyer Daniel J. MacIsaac, 56, who's a cousin to Ashley and (yes!) a first cousin once removed to Mr. White Stripe himself. "I think Jack White would like to be able to defend that he is related to Ashley [MacIsaac]and Natalie [MacMaster] but he's not quite sure of it," Daniel MacIsaac said. Now he is -- "and that's a terrific gene, isn't it?"
Indeed, declared the Antigonish counsellor, "I think we should really welcome Jack White as a Canadian son."
As it turns out, Jack White is a fourth cousin to Natalie MacMaster, a third cousin once removed to Buddy MacMaster, Natalie's father and "the dean of Atlantic fiddlers," and a double fourth cousin to Ashley MacIsaac. According to Daniel MacIsaac, Jack White's grandmother (and Daniel MacIsaac's aunt), Florence MacIsaac, was born in Nova Scotia in 1896 and later married a man named Frank Gillis with whom she established a home in Sydney Mines to raise a family that eventually included two girls and four sons. Times were tough in Nova Scotia, however, and in 1924 the Gillises moved to Detroit. Three years later, Florence Gillis gave birth to a boy, Gorman, who 48 years later fathered Jack White.
The MacMaster connection, in the meantime, comes courtesy of Florence's grandfather, John MacIsaac, who had a sister named Sarah "who married into the MacMaster clan." And as for Ashley MacIsaac, he is descended from Hector MacIsaac, a brother of John.
Daniel MacIsaac confessed that he hasn't met his famous American first cousin, but he hopes to do so this July. He would also like to see the White Stripes perform while they're in Glace Bay and "is scrounging to get some tickets."