TORONTO — Eighteen-year-old singer Alexander Stewart has played for big crowds and pulled in millions of views on his YouTube videos, but performing a rendition of “Hallelujah” for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a public tribute was something special.

Stewart delivered a poignant rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic on Friday to honour the victims of the Danforth shooting that shocked the Greektown community where he grew up. The prime minister quietly sang along while standing beside him.

“It was such a healing moment and a beautiful thing for the community to come together like that,” Stewart says of the experience, which marked the opening of the area’s Taste of the Danforth Festival.

The young singer had already sung “Hallelujah” at the Danforth candlelight vigil last month. His performance led organizers to ask him to return for the annual street festival, and he was also invited to open Billy Talent’s benefit concert for the victims on Saturday.

It’s a sombre point to Stewart’s burgeoning music career, which he’s built from his parents’ home in the Danforth neighbourhood where his father also owns a recording studio. Both his parents worked at The Canadian Press several decades ago.

Stewart began posting covers of popular songs on YouTube about three years ago. When the videos started to take off, he began to consider his aspirations more seriously.

His version of Camila Cabello’s “Havana” has proven most popular, racking up nearly six million views since last October.

Those numbers were enough to attract interest from the music industry with the help of his father’s connections.

Stewart released his debut single “Enamorado” earlier this year. The upbeat summer track was produced by Grammy winner Dave Aude, best known for crafting hits like Selena Gomez’s “Kill Em With Kindness” and club remixes of songs from the likes of Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

Stewart was in Nashville recording some new songs when his father called to tell him about the shooting on the Danforth. It left the singer stunned and feeling distant from his neighbourhood.

“My jaw dropped to the floor,” he says. “I was texting all my friends to make sure they were OK.”

Stewart said he was troubled when he learned that both victims were so young. Reese Fallon, 18, would’ve been headed to university in the fall like many of his friends.

“It’s shocking and shows how fragile life really is,” he says, “and how quickly things can change.”

Paying tribute to the victims was never a question for Stewart. After being asked to perform at the vigil last month, he delayed plans to leave the city for other commitments.

But he admits the second performance, standing next to the prime minister, was a bit more “nerve-racking” at first.

He learned about Trudeau’s appearance only a few hours before he was supposed to take the stage, which didn’t give him much time to psyche himself up for the moment.

“As we’re going on stage I’m standing behind the prime minister and the mayor,” Stewart remembers.

“(It felt like) every major political person in Canada was on that stage with me.”

Stewart says his jitters faded when he launched into the song and gazed open the sea of people. The neighbourhood he knew his entire life was united in this moment.

“I was looking out onto everybody in the audience and I knew like half of the people there,” he says.

“We were all singing together.”

 

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David Friend, The Canadian Press





The Canadian Press