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St. Albert's Hailey Benedict to host country awards show

Hailey Benedict cohosts the Country Music Alberta Awards while Sturgeon County's Bill Borgwardt and former Morinville fiddler Calvin Vollrath are inducted into the Hall of Fame.
St. Albert's Hailey Benedict is both a nominee and co-host of the 2023 Country Music Alberta Awards gala held at Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary on April 2. SUPPLIED/

The 12th Annual Country Music Alberta Awards (CMAA) is where elite artists within the industry vie for a coveted trophy, a visible acknowledgement from their peers. It’s also where St. Albert’s Hailey Benedict, 20, a multiple recipient and the youngest at 13 to win an award, gets a crack to co-host the glitzy gala with singer-songwriter JoJo Mason. 

“I’m really excited and up for the challenge. It will be a great night and I’m looking forward to helping everyone celebrate,” said Benedict. 

During the Gazette’s interview, she was waiting for a script to arrive and was unable to comment on her hosting duties. However, she spoke candidly about her first meeting with Mason. 

“I was 16 and was opening for JoJo and Gord Bamford at Cook County Saloon. Because I was under 18, I had to stay backstage. He came and spent some time with me backstage. He taught me some of the ropes and I appreciated that. This awards ceremony is a full-circle event,” Benedict said. 

Additionally, the local singer-songwriter is nominated in four categories: Songwriter of the Year, Interactive Artist of the Year, Video of the Year and Community Spirit Award. 

The CMAA’s will also induct two artists from our area into the Hall of Fame. The inductees are photographer and country music promoter Bill Borgwardt of Sturgeon County as well as former Morinville fiddler Calvin Vollrath, now living in St. Paul.  

A self-taught fiddler, Vollrath was raised on the music of Don Messer and of his father Art ‘Lefty’ Vollrath. Fiddling for nearly half a century, he has composed more than 800 tunes ranging in different genres from country, Celtic and blues to old-time, swing, roots and big band. 

By 2005 the Canadian music ambassador received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Association, and in 2011 he was inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame. 

Despite international accolades, Vollrath spoke of the provincial award with fondness. 

“I was pretty excited and humbled and honestly, it’s pretty special. It’s nice to be respected by your peers for the work you do,” Vollrath said. 

When asked if there was highlight in his career, without hesitation he responded the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010 Opening Ceremonies. The fiddler was commissioned to compose a work showcasing five Canadian fiddling styles: Francophone, West Coast, Métis, East Coast and Ottawa Valley-Prairies cultures. 

“Everybody around the world watched it. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.” 

Borgwardt instead, has always played to a smaller stage, but one no less influential. One of the first graduates of NAIT’s Photography Technology, the Sturgeon County resident spent a lifetime working as a professional photographer for CBC, ITV, and Capital Film Lab, a motion picture studio. Later he expanded his skills into aerial photography. 

Now a digital photographer, Borgwardt has taken more than 40,000 images of country artists from across Canada which he donated to the National Music Centre in Calgary. When Borgwardt started shooting photos, creating country music history through images was never his intent. He just liked country music and taking photos was a way to preserve a memory. 

“I’ve always been a fan of country — the storytelling and the music. I grew up on country music. We lived on a farm near the Horse Hill District, and I went to country dances. It was a part of my life,” Borgwardt said. 

In addition to photography, he is heavily involved in Global Country, volunteering his organizational skills to promote programs, concerts and events. He is also the road manager for Global’s annual tour of emerging stars singing at the North American Country Music Associations International competition in Tennessee. 

As Country Music Alberta’s (CMA) official photographer since 2012, Borgwardt has maintained a photo archive. In 2022, that site reached more than 2.2 million views for that year alone proving his work is viewed worldwide. 

CMA awards weekend takes place April 1 to 2 at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary.  

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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