RIP: Renowned Canadian Keyboardist Michael Fonfara

Internationally-renowned Canadian keyboard player, Michael Fonfara died in a Toronto hospital on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, due to complications from his two-year battle with cancer. He was 74.

Born in Stevensville, ON, in 1946, the former Lou Reed keyboardist/bandleader appeared on nine of Reed's albums between 1974 and 2005, including his highest charting U.S. album (#10) Sally Can't Dance on RCA, as well as Rock and Roll Heart, Street Hassle, The Bells (which Fonfara executive produced), and Growing Up In Public that was co-written and co-produced by Fonfara for Clive Davis' Arista Records in 1980.

A supremely talented musician, Fonfara loved many different styles of music, performing on British-American Rock band Foreigner's iconic album 4, produced by Mutt Lange, including their top-five Billboard Hot 100 hit "Urgent."  He also recorded with The Everly Brothers, Rough Trade, Rhinoceros, Electric Flag, and was a current and 30-year-plus member of Canadian blues legends Downchild, who are perhaps best known as the inspiration for Hollywood stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's hit film The Blues Brothers, until his untimely death.

"He's the best musician I've ever worked with," says Downchild leader and co-founder Donnie Walsh. Bassist Gary Kendall echoes that sentiment: "Yesterday we lost a brother, a band mate, a co-writer, and a dear friend. If you met him, you loved him. A creative genius."

Fonfara's final recording was Downchild's Live At The Toronto Jazz Festival, recorded at their 50th Anniversary party in 2019, where he performed live alongside special guests Dan Aykroyd, Paul Shaffer, David Wilcox, Kenny Neal, Gene Taylor and Erja Lyytinen. The new album was just released worldwide on October 16, 2020, as the final chapter of his illustrious career.

2018 Juno Award winners, Downchild include some of the most well-respected musicians in Canada, who have performed together for over 25 years. Guitarist, harmonica player, leader and co-founder of the band, Donnie "Mr. Downchild" Walsh, lead singer and harmonica player Chuck Jackson, Pat Carey on tenor sax, Mike Fitzpatrick on drums, Gary Kendall on bass, and Michael Fonfara on keyboards.

Michael Fonfara is survived by his wife Avril, his daughters Ashley and Ciara and his grandchildren Brooklyn, Camden, Jamie, and Jaxon.

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Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician and Canadian Music Trade magazines. He also hosts the Canadian Musician Podcast.
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