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Pegi Cecconi was known far and wide in the music industry as the 'Queen of Everything.'Supplied

Eleven years ago, the Canadian rock band Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a star-studded ceremony in Los Angeles. Inside the Nokia Theatre, at the table closest to the stage, sat Pegi Cecconi and the other executives of Toronto-based SRO Management Inc. and Anthem Entertainment Group, who had looked after the band’s affairs since the 1970s. The night was a crowning achievement for all involved.

To help celebrate the occasion, Rush producer Nick Raskulinecz and Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters performed the colossal Rush song 2112 while dressed in the infamous white kimono robes of Rush’s regrettable wardrobe past. The sound of Ms. Cecconi’s cackle rose above the performance.

At the after-party, Ms. Cecconi was still laughing. Hearing her, Mr. Grohl, a verified rock star, approached her. “It was you,” he said, miffed. “I heard your laugh all the way through the performance.” To which she replied, “What did you expect? You were wearing a kimono and you looked ridiculous.”

If Mr. Grohl was expecting embarrassment or contrition from Ms. Cecconi, he clearly did not know a thing about her.

“She did not apologize,” said colleague Meg Symsyk. “In fact, she doubled down.”

Ms. Cecconi, the loyal, domineering, Nicorette-chewing and iconically cackling vice-president of SRO/Anthem, died on March 28. She suffered from a neurological condition called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and chose a medically assisted death. She was 70.

The native of South Porcupine, Ont., was a meticulous dealmaker with a mama bear’s sense of protectionism when it came to the artists she represented and fought for. A music publishing expert, she plowed through 80-page business contracts like they were Harlequin Romance novels, and inspected artist royalty statements forensically.

As for her savvy at negotiations, if one gave her an inch, she would gladly take it; if one did not give her the inch, she pushed until she got it.

“She was the kind of person who didn’t mince words and didn’t suffer fools, and so clearly oozed integrity,” said former Billboard magazine executive editor Bill Werde. “So, if she took a shine to you, it was validating.”

The audacious dynamo was known far and wide in the music industry as the “Queen of Everything,” with an added expletive before “everything.” The self-appointed title was on her business card.

“She was fearless in every capacity, and she had the biggest heart you could imagine,” said Ray Danniels, the long-time manager for Rush and the president and chief executive officer of SRO/Anthem. He hired her in 1973.

Though often associated with Rush, Ms. Cecconi also worked with Max Webster, Steven Page, Ian Thomas, Lawrence Gowan, Tea Party and more.

In addition to her long stint with SRO and its recording label arm Anthem, Ms. Cecconi served on the board of directors of industry organizations including the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA), the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) and the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR).

“I was always involved in boards, and my philosophy is artists first,” she said in 2021. “It doesn’t matter, the rest of us. Without a song or without a performance, we got nothing.”

Open this photo in gallery:

From left to right, Alex Lifeson, Scott McFadyen, Sam Dunn, Pegi Cecconi, John Virant, and Geddy Lee attend the RUSH: Beyond The Lighted Stage premiere during the 9th Annual Tribeca Film Festival at the School of Visual Arts Theater on April 24, 2010, in New York City.Brian Killian/Getty Images

She also served on the board of the U.S.-based Professional Association of Licensed Music Merchandisers. When she began her career, the merchandising of artist T-shirts and posters was the Wild West sector of the industry, particularly overseas.

“The bootleg merchandisers in the United Kingdom were notorious and violently protective of their turf,” said Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. “Peg met a group of them in a pub and drank every one of them under the table. After that a deal was made and there was a newfound respect for her from these guys.”

On the personal side, Ms. Cecconi was an acerbic quipster in the style of television’s Judge Judy, of whom she was a devoted fan. She was not much for the slopes, but was an après-ski enthusiast. For business as well as pleasure, she was a world traveller who gobbled up frequent flyer points as if they were Tic Tacs.

Late in Ms. Cecconi’s career, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honoured her with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, given annually at the Juno Awards ceremony for contributions to the growth of the Canadian music industry.

She is one of only four women who has been granted that recognition in the 40-year history of the award. A trailblazing presence in a male-dominated industry, Ms. Cecconi once quipped, “Feminists believe in equality. I don’t. Women are better.”

She mentored women generously, but wanted to be around the guys. They were the ones making the deals.

“Peg had an innate ability to be tough when negotiating with men, and yet they still wanted to go out and have a drink with her after,” said Ms. Symsyk, a former SRO/Anthem executive and current president and CEO of FACTOR mentored by Ms. Cecconi. “She fought them but made them laugh, and caused them to cave.”

Bottom line, says Ms. Symsyk: “She got business done.”

By all accounts, the tavern owner’s daughter was a tough cookie and could make a point with a flair for the dramatic. When True North Records’ Bernie Finkelstein poached her assistant for a better position with his label, Ms. Cecconi sent a dead fish to his office, à la The Godfather.

“She was tough, but it was done in great humour,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “I thought it was fabulous. That was Pegi.”

In her last days, she met with friends, including Geddy Lee and Mr. Lifeson of Rush.

“She had been a part of our team and our family forever,” said Mr. Lifeson. “We were allotted an hour with her, but she granted us an extra 15 minutes. After 75 minutes, she suddenly said, ‘Now, get out of here.’ We got up and left. That’s the way she was.”

Margaret Anne Cecconi was the fourth child of five born to Tony Cecconi and Cora Cecconi (née Amadio) in the Northern Ontario gold-mining town of South Porcupine, on Jan. 10, 1954. The place was so small that Ms. Cecconi was South Porcupine’s New Year’s baby nine days after the fact.

Her father and his brother owned the Empress Tavern, built by their Italian immigrant parents who came to Canada via Halifax, landing in the early 1900s with nothing more than a cedar chest and $50.

As a tyke, Ms. Cecconi was rambunctious. Her father called her “Tiger,” and her mother dressed her in a red snowsuit so the child could easily be found when she collapsed exhausted in a snowbank.

At Roland Michener Secondary School, as what was called a “social convener” at the time, she hired bands for school dances. One of the booking agents who called was Mr. Danniels, who pitched the fledgling rock trio Rush as entertainment. The teenaged Ms. Cecconi turned the offer down, reasoning that for the same price he was charging for Rush she could hire a four-piece band instead.

“That was the early indication that this kid was nobody’s fool,” Mr. Danniels said. “Whatever she could put on her side of the equation when it came to the negotiation, she was very capable of doing.”

After high school, in 1972 she thumbed her way to Toronto and found work at the talent booking agency Concept 376. In her words, “I had to dress like a hooker to get hired for the job.”

She found success quickly. As a rookie booking agent, she was paid $60 a week. With commission, however, she was taking in six times that much.

When Ms. Cecconi first applied for a job at SRO Management, Mr. Danniels didn’t have a position for her. But after taking note of her work at Concept 376 for a year, he created a position for her at SRO. “I thought, ‘I gotta get this kid.’ She was a force of nature that I had not seen before.”

According to Sheila Posner, a bookkeeper at SRO/Anthem, Ms. Cecconi was game for anything, including joining her at a Girl Guide outing. “I invited Pegi to Camp Ma-Kee-Wa, and the girls loved her because she swore like a trucker,” Ms. Posner recalled.

At SRO/Anthem she rose through the ranks to become VP corporate affairs and Mr. Danniels’s right-hand woman. She enjoyed a level of autonomy – her mandate was to do what she wanted, as long as it made money.

One of her career highlights was the 1981 comedy album The Great White North by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas (in character as SCTV’s beer-drinking hosers, the brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie). The low-budget album she spearheaded made a Canadian cultural splash, won a Juno Award, sold over one million copies in North America and earned a Grammy nomination.

She won her own Juno awards as an executive producer for the Rush concert DVDs Rush In Rio and Beyond the Lighted Stage, and was particularly protective of Rush’s brand when it came to licensing deals. “Pegi was the person to pitch to,” Ms. Symsyk said. “Only if you got past her did any proposal make it to Ray and the band.”

There was a certain charm to her brusque manner. “I would be updating her on the phone and she would start yelling, ‘My ears are getting too hot,’ and she would just hang up,” Ms. Symsyk said.

Close friend Cindy Zaplachinski was a young business affairs person with Polygram when she first encountered Ms. Cecconi. “Because I was on the label side, we were natural enemies. We were having intense negotiations over the phone, and she hung up on me more than once. But then she immediately called back, and we made plans for dinner.”

A two-time cancer survivor, Ms. Cecconi faced her illnesses with grit and determination. At the annual Midem music festival and boozy industry shindig in Cannes, France, she told Billboard’s Mr. Werde she had cancer. “I cried a bit,” he recalled. “But then she said, ‘Don’t you dare not have a fun night.’”

She was diagnosed with PSP in 2022. Ms. Cecconi is survived by daughters, Toni Wales and Kate Wales; sister, Elaine (Beatle) Cecconi; and brother, Jack Cecconi. She is predeceased by her husband, Doug Wales.

There will be private gatherings of friends and family, as per Ms. Cecconi’s specific wishes, at the Red Barn, Cambridge, Ont.; the Arctic Watershed, near Timmins, Ont.; and Badalucco, Italy. “As always,” said her sister, “Pegi has the last word.”

You can find more obituaries from The Globe and Mail here.

Editor’s note: Rush producer Nick Raskulinecz – not Pat Smear of Foo Fighters – performed the song 2112 with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins when Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This version has been corrected.

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