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William Prince, holding a guitar case in his right hand.
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A Homecoming


This September, singer-songwriter William Prince will headline the grand opening of the Desautels Concert Hall. But it won’t be the first time the Juno Award-winner with the buttery baritone has hit a UM stage.

That honour goes to Degrees Diner and an open mic there about 15 years ago, when Prince [BSc/2018] was still a UM science undergrad eyeing a career in medicine.

How much has changed.

Prince has become a giant in Canadian folk and country music, releasing four studio albums, winning two Junos, performing with the likes of Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, and selling out shows from Victoria to Halifax.

Now he can’t wait to return to his alma mater, where sets like the one at Degrees helped lay his path to a booming career in music.

“It’s gonna be nice to be back there as a success for a change,” laughs Prince on recent a call from his home just down the street from the new venue. “And to be the first to perform somewhere is such an honour. I’m so excited.”

Admittedly, his time as a UM science major was a “tough go.” Growing up on Peguis First Nation north of Winnipeg, he found the high-school science curriculum there didn’t provide the foundation he would need.

Prince was motivated, though. He dealt with asthma and juvenile diabetes as a kid, and spent hours in the hospital under caring doctors. As an adult, he wanted to return to First Nations communities as a physician to provide the same level of compassion he had received.

But he also had another calling that had been planted early too. His dad was a preacher and a musician, and the young Prince would often follow him to gigs in northern Manitoba and eventually play with him. By age 15, William was writing his own songs.

He kept writing and playing when he got to UM—“and to a fault,” he can say now with a smile.

“There were moments when I definitely should have been studying but I was rehearsing a guitar part for a song or trying to come up with lyrics or record a demo in the middle of the night.”

Eventually, the music overcame the medicine, but looking back now he doesn’t see the two passions as necessarily at odds.

“I was very much interested in the human condition, and I guess I just wanted to process that in a different way,” he says. “I’m not a physician now, saving people in that way, but it’s still nice to contribute a little bit to the human condition with my music these days—that’s the best part.”

He’ll be looking to contribute a little more when he headlines the Desautels Concert Hall show on Sept. 5.

At 409 seats, it’s the ideal venue size, says Prince, because it encourages more working-class musicians like himself to visit Winnipeg and be part of the city’s rich musical scene.

As for what he’ll be thinking about when he hits that Desautels stage for the first time, that first open mic at UM won’t be far.

“I’m just going to go up there and deliver the show of a lifetime, just like I did in Degrees all those years ago,” he says. “It’s the same show, just a different time. All the intention and the effort is the same.”


Prince isn’t the only Indigenous artist whose career in folk and country music has taken off in recent years. He points to people like Julian Taylor, Wyatt C. Louis, Fontine, and others who are “making a big splash.”

“It wasn’t that long when it was a shock to receive even me,” says Prince. “Now it’s becoming, ‘Hey, another great singer-songwriter who happens to be First Nations.’ That’s a good feeling. I’m not alone out here.”

He says it’s also a good feeling to finally see First Nations music not treated as separate.

“This is not music for a certain group or a certain region. The stories and words that First Nations artists have to share with the world are as old as time itself, especially in this region of the land where we’ve been.”

His advice for other aspiring Indigenous songwriters wanting to share their words is to stay true to yourself.

“Now more than ever we need your authentic self and your stories, so stay dedicated to what it is that draws you to music. Focus on that,” he says. “Don’t worry so much about outside influence and what the mainstream pop charts are doing because storytellers will always find their way in the world.”


Check out the full line-up and get tickets for the Desautels Concert Hall Grand Opening Concert Series.

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