Miss Emily’s journey to the Junos

By Emily Coppella

Miss Emily LIVE at the Isabel nominated for 2022 Juno Awards blues album of the year

It’s been 18 years since Emily Fennell became a full-time musician. She began winning accolades as a pre-teen at county fairs. She spent a few years playing in bars, travelling across Ontario for gigs. Now, she has five albums, a loyal fanbase, and she holds the record for the most sold-out performances at Kingston’s Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (The Isabel). Emily Fennell, known as Miss Emily on stage, has now garnered national recognition by being nominated for blues album of the year at the 2022 Juno Awards—and we’re really not surprised.

Miss Emily’s refined but edgy, sweet but sultry, vocals have been charming Kingston music-lovers for years. The record that has made her a Juno-nominated artist, Miss Emily LIVE at the Isabel, is a compilation of several live performances at the Isabel. The 15-track album features songs from two album release shows for In Between, featuring Gord Sinclair and Rob Baker (2017), and selections from Miss Emily Sings Kingston II (2018), and Miss Emily in Concert (2019 and 2020).

Photo credit: Gord Hunter

We spoke with Miss Emily about how it feels to be a Juno-nominated artist. Although she’s had some extreme personal challenges in the last year, experienced the stress of caring for a teenaged daughter amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and been busy working on a new record set for release this October, she couldn’t be more excited.

“There have been some very dark times and now I’ve got this thing and it doesn’t ever expire. It’s always this thing that I did, which was become a Juno-nominated artist, whether I win or not. I’ve hit that milestone and it never gets erased for any reason. That’s so cool. I do hope to win too; why not? Why not try to? “

Miss Emily was born in Prince Edward County but has lived in Kingston for the past 18 years. She describes her passion for songwriting as a disease she’s been afflicted with, for as far back as she can remember. She only ever wanted to be a singer. It was the Kingston community that supported her as a full-time musician and single mom with a mortgage at just 23 years old.


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“Prince Edward County is where I grew up and Kingston has developed me as an adult. I came here as a kid on March 1, 2004, and in September 2004 I found out I was pregnant. I was literally thrown into adulthood in my early twenties and this place really cushioned the blow of it for me and supported me as an artist. I can only feed my family and pay my mortgage if people come to my shows and support my music. I can’t credit the community enough for that, really.”

With the Kingston community continuing to support her throughout her career, in 2020 alone, Miss Emily earned the title of Maple Blues Awards Female Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Sapphire Canadian Blues Music Video Award winner (for her music video, “Hold Back the River,” filmed inside the Kingston Penitentiary).

But Miss Emily says talent is only one aspect of her success. She also credits a positive attitude, smart business decisions, personal connections, and the notion that great risks make for greater rewards. In fact, the earliest shows she did at the Isabel were five-figure risks she produced herself. Beginning with hundreds of personal phone calls made and emails sent to sell tickets, Miss Emily has since devoted herself to performing in large theatres to advance her career. She’s seen the doors open ever since.


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Her Juno nomination, then, is particularly special. The album takes place entirely at the Isabel, a venue whose staff is incredibly supportive of Miss Emily’s musical vision. Creating the Juno-nominated album was a community process. The song selection process began with the Isabel sending her the soundboard recordings from six of her shows. After listening closely to every song, Miss Emily condensed the list to about 20 tracks and sent them on to her manager, friends, and family members.

“I asked people who have a music background and people who don’t: ‘What do you like?’ One of the really unique things about this record—and it’s incredibly old-school how we did it—but there are no overdubs. Every single thing you hear on that record was literally happening on that stage at that time. We didn’t take anything out, we didn’t put anything in. Normally people overdub something like a guitar solo. There’s editing, to make it sound seamless because it is five shows, so the audience applause rolls together and that kind of thing, but there are no music overdubs. It’s insane.”

Photo credit: Jillian Lorraine Photography

Miss Emily praises the 14 other musicians represented on the record, whose talent allowed for such a flawless production.

“That’s a ton of incredibly talented people to not be flubbering up the whole thing, you know? There are usually some things out of tune, or somebody forgets to come in at a certain time but there’s none of that. I know it’s my record and I sound almost silly when I talk about it but there’s some flawlessness to it in some ways and I can’t even take credit for it because I’m not playing all the instruments. I’m just one of fifteen people on that record. It only works that way if everyone is bringing their 100 per cent A-game.”

The record captures what are undoubtedly Miss Emily’s strengths: her fierce vocals, phenomenal stage presence, and stellar audience engagement. Slow, heartbreaking tracks flow into more upbeat, jazzy tunes, never compromising on fearless lyrics. Critics have deemed her reminiscent of the likes of Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse. Her inspiration as a songwriter comes from refusing to follow one piece of advice:

“I was given great advice years ago which was ‘don’t write only about yourself because you don’t need to give away all your secrets’…and I’ve never taken that advice. My songs are literally my diary. I get up on the stage and sing my own personal experiences and thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams and fears. It’s like the last 20 years of my life has been documented in my songs.”


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While Miss Emily writes songs inspired by her own experiences, her goal is also to reach out to others and connect people as a population. She’s realized that most of us have the same fears and loves and desires. For example, her next album includes an environmental song called “Respect Your Mother,” which touches on her personal concern about—and the broader issue of—climate change.

Community has always been a huge part of Miss Emily’s life, both on a personal and professional level. She sees Kingston as the type of city that encourages its vibrant artists and uplifts a thriving music community where people support one another.

“Some people like Gord [Sinclair] and Rob [Baker], who are top of the food chain in our industry, in this country, are here in Kingston—and then you have people busking downtown. At one of my Miss Emily Sings Kingston shows, I had a guy named Jonas Lewis Anthony perform. Jonas, now, is quite recognized in town because he’s the lead singer for the band, The Wilderness, and he also sings and plays guitar in Kasador. He’s really talented, but when I first discovered him in my way, he was busking downtown Kingston. I stepped out of the car, and I walked over to him and asked, ‘Will you be in my show?’ Gord and Rob were a part of that show, so we had somebody who was busking at the time, then on stage with two guys from The Tragically Hip.”

Miss Emily refuses to stop celebrating Kingston’s music scene, particularly the way that everyone appreciates unique talent and various levels of success.

The 2022 Juno Awards take place in Toronto on Sunday, May 15.