Roxanne Tellier: Music- Like A Prayer



In Montreal in the sixties, growing up in a Catholic family, we were always encouraged to use our talents in religious gatherings. Even my Aunt Pat, blissfully unaware that she was tone-deaf, would raise her voice loudly and proudly in song.  I sang at mass, first in Latin as the organ wheezed, and later in folk masses, where the guitar was the instrument of choice.

folk mass 60s

Back then, there was less diversity. There were the Catholics, and the Protestants. And way up in Cote St Luc and Cote de Neiges, there were Jewish enclaves. Almost everyone was white. You spoke English or French or a mess of the languages called ‘joual.’ It was a very different time.

Most kids were born into families with strong religious beliefs, and followed their parents’ choices as adults. We didn’t know or care very much about how other people observed their faiths; we were secure in how we worshipped. It wasn’t a major concern. Although it occurs to me now that Christianity was so intensely woven into our daily lives that it was rather taken for granted. Stores were closed on Sundays, except for Jewish owned amenities, so making time for religious events was a non-issue.

60's church 2

By the end of the sixties, though, things were beginning to change. The Religious Right emerged in the United States, along with changes to Immigration laws, allowing people of all colours and creeds to cross the oceans. Suddenly we were flooded with exotic new religions. Many people considered new faiths.

pat-robertsoncraycraySadly, even as these new beliefs entered our culture, some of the Old Guard were galvanized to dig in their heels and demand that rights for the predominantly Christian Canada and the United States not be set aside. What should have opened a dialogue and exchange of information instead begat an “Us against Them” mentality, and a torrent of religious intolerance.

People in the entertainment industry have often concealed their beliefs, either to avoid confrontation or to blend in with their peers. Some converted after marriage, like Katie Holmes, a former Roman Catholic, who became a member of the Church of Scientology after marrying Tom Cruise.

Taylor and Todd

Actress Elizabeth Taylor converted from Christian Science to Judaism and the study of Kabbalah after husband Mike Todd’s death.

Sammy Davis Jr., born to a Catholic mother and Protestant father, converted to Judaism after a near fatal car accident. In hospital, his good friend, the comedian Eddie Cantor, told him about the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. After much study on the history of the Jews, Davis Jr. adopted Judaism, and “a will to live which no disaster could crush.


The iconic Bettie Page, favourite pin-up girl of the forties and fifties, combined an innocence and lack of inhibition with a body that wouldn’t quit. Born into a troubled Protestant family in Nashville, Tennessee, she’d been married and divorced by twenty, and headed for the Big Apple to try to get into showbiz.

bettie page nude

A New York City police office with a passion for photography spotted her on the street, and offered her a modeling portfolio, for no cost. She soon entered the field of “glamour photography,” a euphemism for the production of nude or risqué photos that would appear in men’s magazines such as Wink, Titter, Eyefull and Beauty Parade.


Page converted to evangelical Christianity in 1959, and retired from two decades of being the top pin-up model and ‘Queen of Bondage’ in the U.S.

Bettie in Bondage

Alice Cooper is a Born Again Christian, though not public about his faith: “It’s really easy to focus on Alice Cooper and not on Christ. I’m a rock singer. I’m nothing more than that. I’m not a philosopher. I consider myself low on the totem pole of knowledgeable Christians. So, don’t look for answers from me.”


In contrast, Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, became a born-again Christian in the late ’70s and released two gospel albums,” Slow Train Coming” and “Saved,” and Grammy Award-winning evangelical hit “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Dylan’s proselytizing didn’t sit well with everyone; John Lennon  recorded a track called “Serve Yourself” in response to the evangelizing.

Reggae superstar Bob Marley, raised as a Catholic, became interested in Rastafarianism beliefs in the 1960s. He formally converted to Rastafari and began to grow dreadlocks as a sign of his commitment. His music was infused with both a sense of spirituality and his political beliefs. Marley was baptised into Christianity shortly before his death in 1981.


All hell broke loose when Sinead O’Connor famously ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992. She sang an a cappella version of Marley’s “War,” as a protest against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. While singing the word “evil,” she shredded the picture, said “Fight the real enemy”, and threw the pieces towards the camera. (These days she would have dropped a mic.)

(Editor’s Note: The embedding has been disabled by the copyright owner, but you can still see this by clicking on the link.)

Madonna couldn’t stand the attention O’Connor got for the incident. On her next SNL appearance, she tore up a picture of Joey Buttafuoco after singing “Bad Girl.” Madonna also attacked O’Connor in the press, telling the Irish Times: “I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people. If she is against the Roman Catholic Church and she has a problem with them, I think she should talk about it.”

This would be the same Madonna who, years later, got kookoo over Kabbalah. Raised a Catholic, Madonna made a career out of scandalizing Christians with her racy outfits, and sexy dance moves while wearing crosses as jewellery. Madonna continually addressed religious themes in her music, often mixing them with sexuality.

In the late ’90s Madonna began studying Kabbalah, a school of thought that delves into the mystical aspects of Judaism, and she has been one of its most active, high profile members ever since.

isaac hayes ultimate cdAt the age of five, Isaac Hayes began singing at his local gospel church, and taught himself to play the piano, the Hammond organ, the flute, and the saxophone. Hayes took his first Scientology course in 1993, and later became active, attending special events along with fellow Scientologist entertainers Anne Archer, Chick Corea and Haywood Nelson, and contributing endorsement blurbs for many Scientology books. Hayes and Doug E. Fresh recorded a Scientology-inspired album in 2001; The Joy Of Creating – The Golden Era Musicians And Friends Play L. Ron Hubbard.  

Golden era Musicians

In the nineties, Hayes became the voice of “Chef” for Comedy Central’s animated television series,  South Park.  In 2005 Hayes/”Chef”, did not appear in the controversial episode “Trapped in the Closet“, a satire of Scientology. At first, Hayes did not seem at all disturbed by the episode, defending series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, saying “One thing about Matt and Trey, they lampoon everybody, and if you take that serious, I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for two dollars. That’s what they do.” But on March 13, 2006, Hayes issued a statement asking to be released from his contract with Comedy Central, citing recent episodes which satirized religious beliefs, as being intolerant.

joe-tex-gotchaJoe Tex, who had several hits in the sixties (“Show Me,” “I Gotcha,” “Skinny Legs and All,)  converted to Islam in 1966, changed his name to Yusuf Hazziez, and toured as a spiritual lecturer. So did Rap musician Rakim, of Eric B. & Rakim, and Robert “Kool” Bell,  founding member of Kool and the Gang.

Cat Stevens converted after a near death experience. In 1976 Stevens nearly drowned in Malibu, but was saved when a wave carried him back to shore, after he’d prayed “Oh God! If you save me I will work for you.” He had previously studied other spiritual paths, including astrology, Buddhism, the I Ching and Zen, but felt an affinity with the Qur’an after receiving a copy of the book for his birthday.


Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001 following a two-year-long debate with friend and fellow Jehovah’s Witness, musician Larry Graham. Prince said he didn’t consider it a conversion, but a “realization”; “It’s like Morpheus and Neo in The Matrix,” he explained. He attends meetings at a local Kingdom Hall and occasionally knocks on people’s doors to discuss his faith.

“Call me Mikaeel,” said Michael Jackson, when the King of Pop converted to Islam from his former Jehovah’s Witness faith, in 2008. Canadian-Muslim Dawud Wharnsby and producer Phillip Bubal, along with Michael’s brother, Jermaine, had been speaking to Jackson about their Muslim beliefs and felt they had become better people after converting. With their encouragement, he formally converted, but died just a year later.

An estimated half of all North Americans adults will change their religion during their lifetimes. Some will do so quietly, while others will feel the need to shout about their enlightenment from the rooftops. With such a large menu of religions and beliefs available, the key is finding what works for you. All the rest of us ask is that you enjoy your faith without being intolerant of the faiths other people have chosen.   (coexist.jpg)

Bonus – something to think about …


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

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DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

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