feature films

Joan and Sadie

A film by Rhonda Buckley

Joan Morrissey and Sadie Thomas are best friends. They do everything together. They work together, with Joan singing and Sadie managing her career. They go on the road and sign record deals together. And together these two brash and fierce women from small-town Newfoundland take on the entertainment industry, where the only F word that comes across their lips isn’t feminism.

Joan Morrissey lights up a room. Her powerful singing holds an audience in the palm of her hand with her rich, bold voice. Barrooms are filled with wall-to-wall men, but Joan is center stage, and she takes no lip.

Born in 1935 in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, she started singing on the radio at seven. Joan got married, had six kids, and juggled being a mother and homemaker while pursuing a successful singing career and becoming a rising star.

After selling over 50,000 records and being nominated for a Juno, Joan receives a cheque for $38 from a Toronto record company. In response, Joan calls the company crooks on the front page of the local paper, takes them to court in a landmark case and insists that artists must be paid.

Joan performs live on Canada AM with Newfoundland bravado and sings Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water, to glowing reviews. She performs in Toronto and is invited to Nashville with Sadie by her side taking care of everything from business to Joan's hair.

At the same time, she continues to volunteer with the parent-teacher association and bakes brownies. When other mothers tell her children she is a ‘loose’ woman performing in a bar, she says, “To hell with what others have to say, you must always do what you think is right.”

Joan, on the outside, appears to have it all, a music career, family and friends, and a new home just like all the other homemakers. But Joan has also withstood a court case with a national record label, a jealous and abusive husband, and a heart surgery that leaves her with severe depression.

At 44 years of age, after singing "How Great Thou Art" to family and friends on New Year’s Eve, ten days later, Joan takes her life while her children are at school. From Joan’s point of view, “I said I could do it, and that is why I can. It is no more than folding laundry or baking bread. I always knew I could do it, and so I do.” When asked to sing a song, Joan would quickly reply, “Yes, My Dear, I will sing you a song.”

Joan’s music is still heard on the radio in Australia, Europe, and North America.

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