Norman Jeff Healey, a Grammy-nominated singer and musicologist, died on March 2 of lung cancer. He was 41.
Born and raised near Toronto, Healey was diagnosed with a rare form of retinal cancer when he was only one years old. The disease, known as retinoblastoma, claimed his eyesight.
Blindness could not halt Healey’s passion for music. At three, he picked up his first guitar and taught himself to play by laying the instrument across his lap. In his teens, Healey continued to hone his guitar skills while also learning how to play the trumpet and the clarinet. He graduated from Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, performed in several bands, studied musical theory and emulated musicians such as B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. He would eventually share a stage with King as well as George Harrison, Ringo Starr, ZZ Top, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Healey formed The Jeff Healey Band in 1985. The group performed hundreds of concerts over a two-year period before signing with Arista Records and recording “See the Light.” The album, which featured the hit single “Angel Eyes,” went platinum in the United States and eventually sold two million copies worldwide. “See the Light” also earned Healey a Grammy nomination and the 1990 Juno Award for Entertainer of the Year. In 1989, The Jeff Healey Band performed their bluesy brand of rock music in the movie “Road House,” starring Patrick Swayze. Soon they were filling stadium venues with thousands of fans.
Healey also had a love for jazz, a genre of music he concentrated on in the 1990s. He once again picked up the trumpet, and recorded several albums with his jazz band, Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards. Healey also hosted the radio show “My Kinda Jazz” on CBC Radio and on Toronto’s Jazz-FM station, and operated two clubs in Toronto. His final album, “Mess of Blues,” which he recorded with the Healey’s House Band, will be released on March 20 in Europe and on April 22 in North America.
The cancer that plagued Healey in infancy returned in 2006. The husband and father of two underwent numerous operations to remove tumors from his lungs and leg, as well as aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but the disease continued to wreak havoc on his body. Healey fought the cancer physically and spiritually, but also musically, giving concerts that raised money for Daisy’s Eye Cancer Research Fund.
Two memorial concerts are scheduled to be held in May in Toronto. Information on tickets and acts will be posted on Healey’s Website. Later this year, Stony Plain will reissue two of his jazz albums, “Among Friends” and “Adventures in Jazzland.”