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Jesse Winchester, singer-songwriter who dodged U.S. draft, dies at 69

Jesse Winchester, legendary singer-songwriter and draft dodger, has died of cancer. Photo taken Sept. 7, 1999.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Jesse Winchester, the American singer and songwriter who settled in Quebec after fleeing the draft in the United States during the Vietnam War, has died of cancer of the esophagus. He was 69.

Winchester left the U.S. in 1967 and went to Montreal. He started playing with local groups in Montreal and was discovered by Robbie Robertson of The Band. He recorded his first album in 1970 and was a songwriting machine, turning out many albums before taking an 11-year break. Many of the songs, such as Biloxi and Yankee Lady, reflected his origins in the southern United States.

When U.S. President Jimmy Carter issued an amnesty for draft dodgers in 1977, Winchester chose to stay in Canada and he lived for many years in Quebec's Eastern Townships. He became a Canadian citizen and didn't move back to the United States until 2002 after he remarried. He told one interviewer he didn't think it was fair to force his new wife to learn French.

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Winchester's songs have been recorded by many other artists, including Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris and the Everly Brothers.

Winchester, who had been battling cancer some time, was incorrectly reported to have died earlier this week, at which point a note was posted to his Facebook page, "Dad hasn't passed yet, though he is calm and at peace."

Friday afternoon another note was posted, "Friends, our sweet Jesse died peacefully in his sleep this morning. Bless his loving heart."

Keith Case, Winchester's booking agent in Nashville, confirmed Winchester's death on Friday.

Case also mentioned that Winchester's final album, recorded in May of last year, is slated to be released in August.

"It's a beautiful piece of work," Case said of the album, titled A Reasonable Amount of Trouble. "It may be the best record he's ever done."

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