When Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle died in 2010, Rufus Wainwright lost both his mother and his biggest fan. “She was the force behind my talent,” says the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter. “She was a great musician, and I think she realized early on that I had the ability and the drive and the ambition, and she made sure to steer me into the pursuit of excellence.”
McGarrigle’s cancer, clear cell sarcoma, is as rare as it is deadly. Buried in her small intestine, it went undetected for several years. “It got periodically worse, and finally we knew that something was wrong, but by then it was too late,” Wainwright says.
Before McGarrigle died, she created a fund to raise money for sarcoma research. “She started this not so much to save herself. I think she knew deep down that she wasn’t going to win this one. But she really felt for the young people she saw at the hospital and wanted to work to help them,” Wainwright says.
He and his sister Martha continued their mother’s initiative, founding the Kate McGarrigle Foundation in 2012. To finance the foundation’s research grants, the family hosts concerts, including an annual Christmas show called Nöel Nights.
The foundation has also partnered with Stand Up To Cancer to fund music therapy for people who have the disease. Wainwright considers this another way to honor his mother’s legacy.
“Once she was diagnosed, music became an incredibly important factor in her quality of life,” he says. “So we also support artists who on the one hand need medical care and housing, but also need a creative outlet to interpret what’s happening to them.”