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Serena Ryder (born December 8, 1982) is a Canadian musician. Born in Toronto, she grew up in Millbrook, Ontario. Ryder first gained national recognition with her ballad "Weak in the Knees" in 2007. An accomplished songwriter and musician, she also possesses a three-octave vocal range and is considered a mezzo-soprano. Her timbre has been described as slightly nasal with a raspy lower register.
Early life and musical interest:
Ryder was born on December 8, 1982, and she is the daughter of Barbara Ryder and her second husband Andy. Ryder was raised just outside Peterborough in Millbrook, Ontario, grew up listening to old Beatles and Leonard Cohen records that she found in her parents' collection. She was the only child in her family. At age seven, Ryder would sing at Legion halls and motor hotels. Having received a guitar from her stepfather, she began playing the instrument at the age of thirteen. Songwriting efforts followed. At fifteen, Ryder was playing old classic and folk tunes with her piano teacher in coffee houses and legion halls.
Ryder has stated "I'd been writing a lot since I was maybe eleven years old. I wasn't doing diary entries; I needed to express something a little deeper than that, which I couldn't express in conversation. And I'd been singing since I was a little kid, doing cover songs at gigs. But when I got my guitar, a whole other world opened up to me. I realized I could put the poetry I was writing to song and bring two very separate things together."
At age seventeen, Ryder left her home to go to Peterborough, Ontario and settled into a community of artists. Within a year, while working at a Cajun restaurant, attending the Integrated Arts Program at the Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational Institute, Ryder played solo and shared the stage with bands from the Peterborough area including Thousand Foot Krutch and Three Days Grace.
In early 1998 she was approached by Damon de Szegheo, owner of the Peterborough Ontario-based independent record label and recording studio, Mime Radio, about doing some recording. de Szegheo had noticed her while she sang during a set change for a local on-stage production of Gone With The Wind. The resulting product of their sessions was a self-titled promotional cassette named Serena (limited to a run of 100) and her first full-length CD titled Falling Out, released in December 1999.
She was later managed by Kellie Bonnici. Bonnici approached Ryder with an offer to help her after being moved by her performance at the 2001 Peterborough Folk Festival, where Ryder was awarded the Festival's first 'Emerging Artist' award. This award enabled Ryder and Bonnici to attend a regional music festival conference and make some initial connections. Bonnici worked with Ryder to release Live at The Market Hall and A Day in the Studio in 2002.
While Ryder was playing her first show at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec--famous for its high-profile performers--owner Paul Symes, amazed at Ryder's talent, called Bill Stunt, the producer of CBC Radio's Bandwidth and left a voice mail of the live show. This led Stunt and Symes to invite Ryder for a performance recorded by CBC Bandwidth at the Black Sheep Inn. The recording was later released as a live EP, Serena Ryder Live. The album features the song "Hiding Place," which was recorded for the first time.
Ryder was invited (by Erin Benjamin, then president of the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals) to perform in Winnipeg at a regional music conference. It was there that her then-manager Bonnici met CBC radio host Avril Benoit during one of Ryder's showcases. They later arranged an interview for Ryder on CBC's Here and Now, which caught the attention of musician Hawksley Workman and his then-manager Sandy Pandya. After initial meetings with Workman and Pandya, Ryder was invited to record on Workman's Isadora label. Shortly thereafter, Ryder and Bonnici amicably parted ways, and Ryder began working with Pandya in 2004.
In 2005, Isadora Records released Live in Oz, a recording from Ryder's tour of Australia, in limited numbers available only at shows.
2005-2007: early singles:
In 2005, backed by Workman and two other players, Ryder recorded her debut album with a major label, Unlikely Emergency. The album did well enough to earn Ryder a performance slot at the 2005 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame press conference, after which it was suggested she cover songs written by other Canadian musicians. Meanwhile, the poignant song "Just Another Day" got considerable airplay on various Canadian radio stations.
In November 2006, Ryder's released her second album If Your Memory Serves You Well, a collection of 12 covers of notable Canadian songs and three original songs. The tracks include Sylvia Tyson's You Were On My Mind, Leonard Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy", Galt MacDermot's "Good Morning Starshine" and the Bob Dylan-Rick Danko-written "This Wheel's on Fire", as well as Paul Anka's "It Doesn't Matter Any More."
The EP Told You in a Whispered Song, released on June 19, 2007, is an acoustic studio collection of several live tracks and new songs by Ryder. Touring in Canada, Ryder was part of a show in Prince Edward Island in July 2007 headlined by Aerosmith and featuring other notable bands including 54-40 and Cheap Trick. Touring in Australia that same year, Ryder appeared as a guest on SBS's RocKwiz, where she displayed an authoritative knowledge in rock music-related questions, singing many song segments in answer, and performing in the closing guest spot with Lior.
2008-present: critical acclaim and chart success:
In April 2008, Ryder found herself receiving the 2008 Juno Award for "Best New Artist of the Year," with the label EMI. On November 11, 2008, Is It O.K., was released in Canada on EMI Canada and on Atlantic Records in the United States on February 11, 2009. The single "Little Bit of Red", which won a Juno Award in 2010 for Best Video of the Year, was released on that album. As well, "All for Love", which appears on Is It O.K. and the EP Sweeping the Ashes, was featured in an episode of ABC television's Private Practice. In Canada, Is It O.K. won the Juno Award for Adult Alternative Album of the Year in 2009. In the United States, the album got a warm reaction and Ryder furthered her foray into the U.S. by recording the duet "You Can Always Come Home" with American Idol Jason Castro on his debut album.
In May 2009, she appeared on Bruce Springsteen's official website, covering his song "Racing in the Street". The video was part of the "Hangin' On E Street" feature of his website. That year, her song "Sing, Sing" was selected for Music Monday, a special event to highlight music education in Canada which saw nearly two million Canadian schoolchildren singing the song in class on May 5.
In February 2011, she toured with Melissa Etheridge across Canada. Ryder's song "Broken Heart Sun" was performed as a duet with Etheridge and a recording was released on her EP Live. Ryder performed "Broken Heart Sun" with Etheridge at the Juno Awards that same year.
In 2011, Ryder fell in love and it was the main inspiration for her fifth album, Harmony. Over 65 songs were written for the new album. "It feels like it's the first time I've written...in love. " After writing more songs while in Los Angeles with Jerrod Bettis and Jon Levine, Ryder released Harmony on November 27, 2012. The first single "Stompa", co-written with Bettis, featured in an episode of ABC television's Grey's Anatomy, quickly climbed the charts, and became certified platinum in January 2013. In the United States, less than two months after its release, it was at number 14 on the charts. In Canada, Ryder became the first Canadian artist to be number one on the CBC's Radio 2 Top 20 chart days after the release of Harmony. With "Stompa", Ryder found herself being featured in four radio station formats: Modern Rock, Hot AC, Top 40 and Adult Contemporary
Ryder's song "What I Wouldn't Do" is currently featured in the promotional video for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Ryder performed at the opening night of Luminato Festival on June 14, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario. She also performed in Calgary, Alberta on July 6, 2013 as part of the Calgary Stampede. On July 17, 2013, Ryder made her late night show debut, performing "Stompa" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In 2014, Ryder performed the Canadian National Anthem for the 2014 NBA All Star Game. She also provided vocals for the song "In The Morning" on the fifth studio album by Canadian rock band, The Trews.
In March 2014, Ryder co-hosted the Juno Awards, and won Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year.
In May 2015, Ryder recorded "Together We Are One", the official theme song for the 2015 Pan American Games. The song reached #1 on the Radio 2 Top 20 the week of July 17, 2015. She performed at the Pan Am Games Closing Ceremony.
Artistry and activism:
Ryder's music has been influenced by genres ranging from R&B, jazz, folk, country, classical and blues. She admits her influences include Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Roger Miller, Hank Williams, John Prine, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Buddy Holly, TLC, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Wham!, Culture Club, Supertramp, The Beatles, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.
She ranges musically between folk, roots, country, and adult contemporary music. An accomplished musician, Ryder can play guitar, piano, mandolin, ukulele, harmonica, banjo, clarinet, drums, bass.
According to various sources, Ryder possesses a three-octave vocal range. Ryder is considered a mezzo-soprano. Her timbre has been described as slightly nasal with a raspy lower register. Ryder is often praised for her technical virtuosity. She hits notes in full voice, with a controlled vibrato and an incredible conception of pitch. Ryder has a good-sized arsenal of technical skills. She "delivers in a commanding, often melismatic style that enchants"
Reviews have compared her to "the teenaged Aretha Franklin" (Elle), noting her "impressive fearlessness" (Boston Globe), lauding her "pipes, presence and potential" (No Depression), and observing that "Ryder brings a range and vocal maturity of someone twice her age" (American Songwriter).
In addition to singing, Ryder is also an accomplished visual artist. She draws, paints, sculpts and does collage. Some of her paintings have been sold for charity events, including The Kidney Foundation of Canada. Ryder is also well-known among her friends for her voice impressions, mimicking various accents. Ryder has also actively supported many other charity organizations in Canada and abroad. She has been involved with Young Artists for Haiti, Time for Climate Justice Campaign, Canadian Kidney Foundation, Peterborough MusicFest, Fashion CARES.
In August 2015, Serena Ryder performed on CBC TV's "Quietest Concert Ever on the Ocean Floor", which took place on the ocean floor during low tide at Fundy National Park in New Brunswick Canada. During this pre-recorded concert documentary (also available to stream on YouTube), she performed songs from her upcoming album entitled Utopia. The televised broadcast of this concert was on September 25, 2015.