For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council updates the profile of local musician, Ray St. Hilaire. Born and raised in Winnipeg, he retired to live full time near the town of Lac du Bonnet, on the shores of the Winnipeg River. Before he moved to the country, he worked as an industrial mechanic in the city. But he never abandoned his love of music.
His musical journey began with learning how to play the accordion. When he was twelve, he took accordion lessons for six months. He said, “It’s a wonderful instrument that seems to have fallen by the wayside over the years.”
But his accordion sessions soon ended after he saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and experienced a musical epiphany. Somehow, he knew the electric guitar would provide “the ticket to my five minutes of fame.”
He immediately switched to guitar. Since then, he has played rhythm guitar and bass guitar, and has sung in my many bands. A couple of years ago, he had the good fortune to be gifted an upright bass, also called a double bass. He uses it in his musical ensemble called “Rice and Beans, the Band.” He said, “The upright bass is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. “
To keep his fingers nimble and his voice strong, he welcomes all opportunities to entertain folks who love good music and loves to get hired by local venues. When asked what motivates him to keep practicing and performing, he said, “Music is so invigorating and at the same time relaxing.”
For over forty years, St. Hilaire was involved in the Winnipeg music scene. He has performed all over Manitoba, as far south as Emerson and as far north as The Pas. Although he travels far and wide to numerous gigs, and even performs during vacations in Mexico, he happily makes time to instruct young musicians.
He said, “A musician loves to play for him or herself, but the greatest joy comes from sharing and showing his art with others. I have taught guitar for years and am so proud of my students who have surpassed my expectations.”
His band has played at Festival du Voyageur, 4P Festival, and the anniversary gathering for Harley-Davidson Owners of Canada. He also loves appearing at the Lac du Bonnet Personal Care Home with his group and loves seeing how the residents respond to his songs.
According to St. Hilaire, the most worthwhile achievement has been performing every year for the Children’s Wish Foundation at their charity fundraiser. In addition, he has volunteered for several years as a board member for the Winnipeg River Arts Council and even stepped up to serve as its president.
His favourite quote: “When the music is over – turn out the lights” Jim Morrison, The Doors.