Born c. 1950 in London, England; daughter of John Haig Boyd and Eileen (Hancock) Boyd. Education: Studied with Eli Kassner at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, 1964; attended Kipling Collegiate Institute, 1967; University of Toronto, B.Mus., 1972; studied with Alexandre Lagoya in Paris, 1972-74. Addresses: Home-- Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Office-- c/o C.A.P.A.C., 1240 Bay St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5R 2A7. Record Company-- A&M, 1416 North La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028.

"Liona Boyd has been stretching the boundaries of the classical guitar almost since she first established herself on the classical circuit more than a dozen years ago," Jon Sievert wrote in Guitar Player. In that time, Boyd has toured the globe, playing as a featured soloist with orchestras in Europe, China, Japan, and the Americas. She has performed privately for such political dignitaries as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro, Pierre Trudeau, Queen Elizabeth II of England, and the King and Queen of Spain. Boyd has also recorded 15 albums and won numerous honors, including four Juno awards--the Canadian equivalent of the American Grammy Award. In her homeland of Canada and in areas around the world, Boyd receives both popular and critical acclaim. But in some circles, purists question her for having a repertoire more popular than that of other serious classical guitarists and for recording albums that do not adhere to traditional musical genres.

Although she is hailed as Canada's "first lady of the guitar" (coincidentally, a title from one of her albums), Boyd was born in England and lived her first seven years there before moving with her family to Toronto. Boyd's unaffected childhood--she danced, wrote poetry, painted--gave little indication of her future course in music. But when she was fourteen years old and heard a concert by classical guitarist Julian Bream, she found direction. "I probably would have been a writer if I hadn't gone to that concert," she told Gail Buchalter in People, "but I fell in love with the guitar." She then began guitar studies with Eli Kassner at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and eventually graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor's degree in music. That same year, Boyd won a national competition and began a two-year study program in Paris as classical guitar master Alexandre Lagoya's private pupil. When she returned to Canada, she signed her first recording contract.

Boyd approached her first recordings with customary classical offerings: transcriptions of standard works. She did, however, debut pieces written by modern Canadian composers and even performed one of her own compositions, albeit an elaboration on a previous composer's theme. But as she told Canadian Composer contributor Michael Schulman at the time, "I really don't think of myself as a composer.... I would do more composing if I had more time to experiment with it, but I know my talents lie in performing."

It was her trademark performance on these recordings--clean, soft, melodic, without the usual guitar string squeaks and buzzes--that caught the attention of folk superstar Gordon Lightfoot, who asked Boyd to appear as the opening act on his 1976 tour of North America. This subsequent exposure brought her a wider listening audience and a gradual artistic change of heart. Shortly after the Lightfoot tour, Boyd explained to Carolyn Nott in Gramophone that she wouldn't become a pop artist because she loves "the subtle shadings and colours of [the guitar] too much for that." But she did admit to Schulman that the applause of a pop crowd far outweighs the criticism of a few traditionalists who question her commercial leanings: "I got a standing ovation ... from nearly 10,000 people. So if one or two voices are horrified, I don't care."

In time, Boyd shifted her position from using "the entertainment world to promote the classical guitar," as she told Nott, to using more popular pieces in her classical concerts and recordings, including collaborations with country king Chet Atkins and rock demigod Eric Clapton. Jim Ferguson quoted Boyd in Guitar Player on her later stance: "A lot of classical purists have given up on me anyway.... But what the narrow-minded classical public feels is not really of concern to me. Recently I've made quite a career change, and I'm very happy with my new way of expression and working with other instrumentalists." Boyd composed more under her new approach, writing in a hybrid style of rock and classical that is indicative of her unwillingness to conform to a single genre. She conceded to Ferguson that "there is something very magical about how the classical guitar can create an entire piece of music, but a whole new world has opened up for me that involves playing with other musicians and using synthesizers and drum machines. I enjoy playing concerts with a band; I'm more relaxed."

Boyd's desire to extend musical boundaries has not only helped her reach a broader audience but has also brought a wide range of critical reaction to her recordings and concerts through the years. A Variety reviewer who saw Boyd perform early in her career noted that her soft approach to the guitar "leaves her somewhat short in the pyrotechnical area," but allowed, "She is a master technician who plays with a great deal of both understanding and feeling for her material." While Buchalter noted that at least one critic lamented Boyd's transition to the "very, very popsy," the guitarist's consistently rich orchestration and skillful execution seem to have earned her an unparalleled following among classical and pop fans alike.

by Rob Nagel

Liona Boyd's Career

Classical guitarist, composer, and recording artist, 1975--. Opening act for Gordon Lightfoot, 1976; appeared in concert tours around the world as a soloist and as a featured soloist with various orchestras. Television performances include CBC Superspecial Liona, 1978, a documentary titled First Lady of the Guitar, and various talk and variety shows. Composed and arranged sound track for CBC television drama, 1979.

Liona Boyd's Awards

Juno awards of instrumentalist of the year, 1978, 1981, 1982, and 1985; Vanier Award from the Canadian government, 1979; honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto, 1981; named to the Order of Canada, 1982; voted top classical guitarist in Guitar Player poll, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

This comment is an addition to Jesse's comment: Bear in mind the Richard Fortin was commisioned to write/arrange some of Liona's works. That means he got paid for his contributions, so the word "owe" doesn't apply. I enjoyed Richard's work on "Concerto of the Andes" and "Carnival". They're on YouTube:

about 16 years ago

It seems inappropriate in any summation of Liona's career to fail to mention composer/artist and long-time collaborator Richard Fortin to whom she owes so much. Just my two cents. - Jesse.