Ken’s interest in most things Celtic was a direct inheritance from his parents. His mother was a Carlyle, a Scots family much involved in literature and the arts including music. Consequently, she excelled as a pianist and some composition while the interests of his father, John D. MacRae, a member of Parliament, were genealogical and political. With that foundation, his association with Scots music, the pipes, drums and violins was increased by his daily association with Arnold and Glenn Munro and at the age of ten, he played the snare drum in Apple Hill’s Munro Pipe Band.
Another phase of Ken’s development was as a pianist and vocalist with Sid Plamondon’s orchestra. They recorded four of his compositions on Apex Records, a division of Decca Records in Montreal. They also recorded two additional records of jigs and reels featuring Sid’s violin with Ken on the piano in the rhythm section.
At age 17, Ken and his father agreed that his future was not to be in agriculture. As a result, Ken found himself in Toronto where he was employed in the Purchasing Department of Ontario Hydro’s head office. It was during this time in Toronto that Ken found himself missing his home, his family, his friends and not surprisingly, the music he had come to love and play. This longing for his roots led him to compose what has become the national anthem of Glengarry, Glengarry My Home.
During the 1950s and now married to his bride, Inez McDonell, the MacRaes were living in Ottawa where Ken was working at Hydro’s Regional Office. He was now writing “pop” and had some ideas of going the show business route. However, a meeting with Keith Sterling of CKOY opened his eyes to what the business was all about and he quickly learned that what he wrote was not as important as who one had to know to have a song recorded. If that wasn’t enough, a meeting with jazz icon, Ella Fitzgerald, confirmed his doubts. She made her feelings very clear as she told Ken:
Here I am, a fat old black lady trying to make a buck – up all night – sleep part of the day and then off on the road again! Honey g’wan home to your wife and little ones. If I knew how to do something else, I’d be gone in a minute! Y’all don’t belong in this business; g’wan home now to the folks who need and appreciate you.
With “pop” music and show business no longer an option, Ken felt that his time and energy would be better directed to the music of his youth – songs from the heart about his county and the people who mattered most to him. He has no idea how many songs he has written, but his “compensation comes in the form of acceptance by the people who matter the most, the good folk of Glengarry whose kind comments and acceptance are most rewarding.”