The English-born Canadian (naturalized 1975) guitarist and composer, Liona (Maria Carolynne) Boyd, was born in London, England. Her grandmother came from Linares, the city in which Andrés Segovia was born, and her father grew up in Bilbao. Liona came to Canada at age 8 and gave her first "concert" on the treble recorder as part of the ocean liner's talent competition. At age 13 she asked her parents for a guitar as a Christmas present. After hearing a concert by the great English guitarist, Julian Bream, Liona was determined to master the instrument. While still a teenager she took private lessons with Eli Kassner, Narciso Yepes, Alirio Díaz, Julian Bream, and the legendary guitarist Andrés Segovia who wrote "I predict that Liona will have a magnificent career." She completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Performance in 1972 at the University of Toronto, where she graduated with honors and won first prize in the Canadian National Music Competition. Then she studied privately for two years (1972-1974) with Alexandre Lagoya in Paris (of whom she had been a pupil in 1971 at the JMC Orford Art Centre).
In 1974 Liona Boyd returned to North America and began recording for Boot's Master Concert Series (London Records), completing three successful LP's. She made her New York debut on March 22, 1975 at the Carnegie Recital Hall; the New York Times praised her "flair for brilliance." In 1976 she began to tour North America with Gordon Lightfoot, performing at the opening of his programs and thus introducing classical guitar to a new and substantial audience. She herself was the object of the attention usually accorded a pop performer. In 1977, she signed with CBS Masterworks in New York. She recorded several best-selling albums, including her first platinum record, "A Guitar for Christmas".
Liona Boyd has performed extensively throughout Canada, the USA, and 44 other countries. She has had the opportunity to play for dozens of world leaders such as the British Royal Family (Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh), the King and Queen of Spain, Presidents of the USA (Ronald Reagan), Mexico and Cuba (Fidel Castro), the prime ministers of Canada (Pierre Trudeau), France, and Britain, and the Chancellor of Germany, as well as at NATO and Summit Conferences and and the World Presidents Organization. She also participated in benefit concerts for a wide variety of organizations. Invited by Moscow's Mayor Gavrill Popov, Liona became the first Canadian to perform at the Kremlin when she played at an exclusive New Year's Eve Gala, and she was the first performer at the new Bastille Opera House in Paris. Her guitar music filled concert halls all the way from Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok, New Delhi, Edinburgh, Paris, Auckland, Frankfurt, Santiago, Rio, Bogotá, Havana, London, to Copenhagen, Lisbon and Mexico City.
Liona Boyd made her musical presence felt in North America by performing solo concerts in every major city and often working with symphony orchestras such as the Boston Pops Orchestra. She has recorded with Sir Andrew Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra, Yo Yo Ma, Georges Zamfir and Michael Kamen. Breaking with classical tradition she toured with Gordon Lightfoot and Tracy Chapman, and recorded with Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, David Gilmore, Roger Whittaker, André Gagnon (who recorded his Chanson pour Liona with her), in addition to the English Chamber Orchestra, Canadian Brass, and McGill Chamber Orchestra. She has been a special guest on dozens of American TV talk shows including The Tonight Show, Today Show, Nightline, and Entertainment Tonight, and appeared on the CBC TV programs The Guitar (1976), Liona (1978), Liona Boyd in Havana (1982), Life and Times (1999), and Opening Night (2002). A highly successful recording career for CBS/Sony Records brought her music to a vast international audience. The Canberra Times in Australia wrote "breathtakingly beautiful playing, the most musically accomplished and technically flawless playing that I have heard from any guitarist." In 1982 she opened the Festival de la Guitarra in Cuba, and in 1984 she opened Guitar 84, the festival of the Guitar Society of Toronto.
In 1986 Liona Boyd recorded "Persona", an album that has been characterized as New Age music, with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and rock guitarists Eric Clapton and David Gilmour. Later that year she toured with a four-piece electric band. The new approach received mixed reviews (although "Persona" was very successful), and within a year she had reverted to a classical style while incorporating more of her own compositions into her programmes. Her recital repertoire includes her own compositions such as Cantarell (1976), Concerto Baroquissimo (1983), Latin Suite (1987), and Asturiana (1997); her transcriptions of J.S. Bach, L.v. Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, Cimarosa, Debussy, Gottschalk, Puccini, and Satie, and works by Milton Barnes, Robert Feuerstein, Richard Fortin, and Godfrey Ridout. She commissioned and premiered Barnes' Fantasy for Guitar, Ridout's Capriccio, and works by René Gely and Carlos Payet. In 1986 Liona began to collaborate with Fortin, a Quebec guitarist and composer. She commissioned his Concerto of the Andes, which she premiered with the Costa Rica Symphony in 1990.
Liona Boyd composed the incidental music for the film version of Margaret Laurence's The Olden Days Coat (1981) and the documentary Pictures on Water (1989). Her playing was featured in the 20th Century Fox film, A Walk in the Clouds, which won a Golden Globe Award for best musical score, the Hemmingway film A Dream of White Elephants and Disney's A Kid in King Arthur's Court. In 1990 she wrote the music to the CD "Paddle to the Sea" which she also narrated. Pop pianist Frank Mills released a CD recording of her Kitty on the Keys (Capitol) in 1988. She published six books of her own compositions and guitar transcriptions: Liona Boyd: The First Lady of the Guitar (Hansen House, 1970), Miniatures (Hal Leonard, 1977), A Guitar for Christmas (Hal Leonard, 1986), Folk Songs for Classical Guitar (Hal Leonard, 1987), Favourite Solos for Classical Guitar (Hal Leonard, 1988), and Meet Liona Boyd at the Classical Guitar (Thompson, 1988). Her composition My Land of Hiawatha (orchestrated by Fortin) is a tribute to Canada. In 2000, Boyd's single Lullaby for My Love reached the number one position on MP3.com.
Liona Boyd, known as "Canada's First Lady of the Guitar" has introduced millions around the world to the art of classical guitar through her concerts, television specials, and twenty recordings, many of which have gone "Gold" and "Platinum". She won the Vanier Award in 1979, received five Juno Awards (1979, 1982-1984) as instrumental artist of the year, was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1981, and was named to the Order of Ontario in 1991. Her virtuoso talents have resulted in five gold and three platinum albums and five Juno awards (Canada's equivalent of the Grammy). She is also a five time winner of the Guitar Player Magazine poll for best classical guitarist and has been inducted into their "Gallery of Greats." She was known as 'Canada's first lady of the guitar', and other honours include: honorary LL D (Lethbridge) 1981, honorary LL D (Brock) honorary LL D (Simon Fraser) 1991, honorary D MUS (Victoria) 1996. CBC produced several one-hour specials including Romancing the Guitar - The Life and Times of Liona Boyd and Opening Night. Liona's autobiography In My Own Key - My Life in Love and Music (Toronto, 1998) becamea best seller, while her music videos are frequently seen on Classic Arts Showcase and PBS. Later she formed Moston Records.
In 2002 Liona Boyd pursued her passion for Latin culture and love of the Spanish language. She combined popular Latin rhythms with romantic Spanish guitar music in her CD "Camino Latino/Latin Journey". It featured dynamic guest performances by Al di Meola, Steve Morse, Jesse Cook, Strunz and Farah, Johannes Linstead, Pavlo, Luis Villegas and Innis. "Living in Mexico as a teenager I fell in love with the country, the food, the dancing and, of course, the music! Whenever my concert tours have taken me to South and Central America I have felt a special rapport with my audiences." In addition to playing solo and orchestral concerts, Liona toured with a "Nuevo Latino" band, and special guest, Pavlo.
After spending most of her life in Toronto, Canada Liona resided in Beverly Hills, California for 14 years (since 1991); then relocated to Miami in 2004 and to Connecticut in 2007 where she presently lives.
In the fall of 2009 a major label will release two new milestone CD's, both of which feature for the first time her singing as well as her guitar.
Liona wrote "Music contributes profoundly to the richness and beauty of our life experience. I feel so fortunate to be able to share this wonderful international language with people around the world."
Liona Boyd often uses her musical talents to support a variety of causes in which she believes. One particular issue about which she is deeply concerned, is the abuse of laboratory animals. Some of the organizations she supports are:
- Last Chance for Animals
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
- Physicians for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
- The American Antivivisection Society