Skip to main content

Kelly Fraser arrives on the red carpet at the Juno Awards in Vancouver on March 25, 2018.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The prominent Inuit throat singer best known for her Inuktitut covers of Rihanna’s song Diamonds, the Beatles’ Let It Be and Camila Cabello’s Havana died last week at 26.

Kelly Fraser, whose album Sedna was nominated for best Indigenous music album at the 2018 Juno Awards, passed away in Winnipeg, her family announced.

In a statement on Twitter, Ms. Fraser’s family members said they don’t want to discuss “what happened to Kelly,” asking people to respect their privacy while they’re grieving.

“She spoke the truth,” Michaëlle Jean, the 27th Governor-General of Canada, said in a tweet, adding that she “deeply mourns young talented Kelly Fraser.”

Ms. Fraser was an ardent supporter of the Indigenous music community and took every opportunity to amplify the voices of other creators, said Thor Simonsen, a music producer who worked alongside her as a co-founder of Nunavut Hitmakerz.

Their travelling mentorship project, which launched in 2016, provides workshops in Inuktitut and free recording equipment to underfunded communities in different regions. Ms. Fraser played a crucial role in its creation, Mr. Simonsen said.

“Kelly was a ball of energy and passion,” he said. “She loved her people more than anything else and her entire being was centred around trying to improve living conditions for Inuit and First Nations. She was such a giving person.”

Mr. Simonsen said the singer was ultimately “a pop girl at heart” who aspired to worldwide fame.

“She wanted to be on the charts next to Rihanna and the pop stars, but she was also very rooted in her culture,” he said.

“She had such a love of Inuit drum dancing, throat singing and traditional songs … She wanted to express the stories and share the struggles that Inuit go through, making it palatable for an international audience.”

Her friends have asked the public to donate money through a GoFundMe page to help her family cover funeral costs. By late Friday afternoon, nearly $32,000 had been raised.

The death has shocked many other young people who knew or worked with her. “She has made an impact on a lot of people including myself,” tweeted Leigh Anne Parry, the chair of Winnipeg Trails Association, an organization that advocates for better development and transit in the city. “I was lucky to have met her. She was so joyful, playful, funny and had a beautiful vision. Love to her family, friends and community.”

The 26-year-old Inuk pop singer attracted countrywide attention when she recorded a cover of Rihanna’s hit song Diamonds in Inuktitut. The resulting fame encouraged her to produce her first album, Isuma, in 2014, followed by 2017′s Sedna.

Ms. Fraser traveled across Canada, performing in cities including Iqaluit, Igloolik, Baker Lake, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal. The struggles that she went through as an Inuit youth made her strong and inspired her to make art, according to her website.

Her goal was to positively encourage other Indigenous young people to fight substance abuse, suicidal ideas and addiction. She raised awareness in her Inuit communities not only through music but also by teaching songwriting and by speaking to young people.

After winning an Indspire Award in 2019 for her impact on the music community, Ms. Fraser planned to start recording her third album, Decolonize, over the coming weeks in Toronto. The album was set to blend aspects of pop, hip-hop and rock music, and include several collaborations with other artists.

“She was the poster child of a young Inuk woman trying to rise above the challenges that are so commonplace in Nunavut and the Indigenous community,” Mr. Simonsen added.

With files from The Canadian Press