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Ferron (Debby Foisy) (b. 1952)  
 
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One of Canada's most famous folksingers and a pioneer in women's music, Ferron has been compared to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. One critic called her "the Johnny Cash of lesbian folksinging."

She is a poet whose mostly autobiographical lyrics touch the emotional center in listeners and call forth a connection few singers can muster. Her deep alto voice resonates with the ravages of her experiences, yet soars with courage and hope.

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Among female singer/songwriters Ferron is regarded as a goddess. She has been a mentor for such other singers as Tracy Chapman and Ani DiFranco.

In a nod to her, the second season of The L Word featured Ferron's song Testimony covered by Sweet Honey in the Rock. As Bette and Tina's new baby is passed to each woman, Ferron's lyrics resonate in the background:

Listen, there are waters

Hidden from us

In the maze we find them still

We'll take you to them

You take your young ones

May they take their own in turn

But by your lives be you spirit

And by your hearts be you women

And by your eyes be you open

And by your hands be you whole.

Ferron was born Debby Foisy on June 2, 1952 in a semi-rural suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia to a working class family. She is the oldest of seven children.

Her mother's French-Canadian family was very musical. She recalls a childhood in which "I heard guitars and banjo and accordion and scrub board and my grandfather clogging. I put it together . . . music meant fun, meant love and laughter."

At fifteen, Foisy left home to escape a harsh childhood, supporting herself with jobs as a waitress, cab driver, and packing coffee in a factory.

In 1971, Foisy changed her name when one of her friends had a dream in which she was called Ferron, loosely translated from French as "iron and rust," a perfect description of her voice and material.

Ferron made her professional musical debut in 1975, playing her song "Who Loses" at a benefit for the Women's Press Gang, a feminist publishing house. She began singing in coffee houses like the Soft Rock Café, and acquired a reputation as an insightful songwriter and folk singer.

From her basement, Ferron recorded Ferron (1977) and Ferron Backed Up (1978). She took those albums to the Womyn's Music Festival in Michigan where she hooked up with Ladyslipper Music and started shipping albums out of her basement to the United States on her own record label, Lucy Records.

In 1978, Ferron met Gayle Scott, an American filmmaker living in Vancouver. Scott became her first and only manager, and together they produced Testimony (1980), Shadows on a Dime (1984), and Phantom Center (1990).

Testimony catapulted Ferron to fame, and its title track became an anthem for the feminist movement. Under Scott's management she began a concert circuit that took her all over the United States. Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, and Ani DiFranco all opened for her concerts during this time.

Although Ferron knew she was a lesbian as a teenager, it took Scott's encouragement to push her out of the closet. Ferron recalls Scott telling her, "If you can't tell the truth when you have nothing to lose what do you think is going to happen when you have everything to lose?" Her audiences embraced Ferron's honesty.

When Shadows on a Dime was released in 1984, Rolling Stone Magazine bestowed a four star rating on it, calling it "a thing of beauty" and referring to Ferron as a "culture hero." The Boston Globe critic said, "Someday, they will call Dylan the Ferron of the '60s." Almost thirty years later, the tracks on Shadows on a Dime still resonate with listeners.

In 1985, Ferron was awarded a Canadian Arts grant to write music and take voice lessons, but she needed a personal leave as well. She admits to having had a drinking problem at this time. She also contracted hepatitis. When the grant money ran out, she supported herself by working as a carpenter's assistant, a bartender, and a day care worker.

In 1987, she relocated to the United States, but did not return to making music until 1990 when she released Phantom Center, which features backup vocals by a then unknown Tori Amos. The album was the result of her move, her personal exploration, and her arriving near the end of her thirties.

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A portrait of Ferron by Roberto Portillo.
  
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