The Lebanese community in the Canadian capital of Ottawa is a significant one that does not shy away from proclaiming its roots and showing its support to Lebanon, and its members thrive across the city. Some have even made it internationally and among them the famous singer Paul Anka.
Born in Ottawa to a Lebanese mother from Kfar Mechki in Rashaya, Lebanon, Paul Anka is an entertainer who has left his mark on the Canadian and global entertainment industry. His parents Camelia and Andrew Emile “Andy” Anka Sr. owned a restaurant called the Locanda.
Camelia was a Lebanese-Canadian and Andy a Syrian-Canadian from Uyun Al Wadi in Syria. Paul lost his mother when he was just 18 years old.
Anka sang with the St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral choir under the direction of Frederick Karam, with whom he studied music theory. He studied piano with Winnifred Rees and attended Fisher Park High School, where he was part of a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers.
Paul Anka recorded his first single I Confess when he was just 14 years old. In 1957, he went to New York City where he auditioned for Don Costa at ABC, singing what was widely believed to be a lovestruck verse he had written to a former babysitter.
In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross in 2005, he stated that it was to a girl at his church whom he hardly knew. The song Diana brought Anka stardom as it rocketed to No. 1 on the Canadian and US music charts. It is one of the best selling singles ever by a Canadian recording artist
Anka followed it up with four songs that made it into the Top 20 in 1958, including It’s Time to Cry, which hit No. 4 and (All Of a Sudden) My Heart Sings, which reached No. 15, making him at 17 years old one of the biggest teen idols of the time.
He toured Britain, then Australia with Buddy Holly for whom he then wrote the song It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, which Holly recorded just before he died in 1959.
Anka switched labels in the 1970s, marking a turning point in his career. This time, he signed with United Artists and teamed up in 1974 with Odia Coates to record the No. 1 hit (You’re) Having My Baby. That exposed Anka to a new generation of fans and proved his staying power among his original fan base that was now maturing.
His 1998 album A Body of Work was his first new US studio release since Walk a Fine Line in 1983. The vocalists and performers included Celine Dion, Kenny G, Patti LaBelle, and Skyler Jett. The album included a new version of Hold Me ‘Til the Morning Comes, once again performed with Peter Cetera.
In 2005, his album of big-band arrangements of contemporary standards, Rock Swings, provided a mainstream comeback of sorts that saw Anka awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto.
In 2009, Anka stated that Michael Jackson’s new release titled This Is It was a collaborative effort between the two in 1983. According to him, after recording the song, Jackson decided not to use it and yet the tune was then recorded and released by Sa-Fire.
After Anka threatened to sue for credit and a share of royalties, the administrators of Jackson’s estate granted Anka 50% of the copyright. An additional song that Jackson co-wrote with Anka from this 1983 session, Love Never Felt So Good, was discovered shortly thereafter.
His album Songs of December charted at No. 58 in Canada in November 2011. In June of 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Paul Anka among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. Anka’s autobiography, My Way, co-written with David Dalton, was published in 2013.
Paul Anka’s most notable accolades include a street in Ottawa named Paul Anka Drive in 1972, the Ottawa City Council named August 26 as “Paul Anka Day” to celebrate his quarter-century in show business in 1981, and his induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1980. He was also inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2005. His latest holiday album Songs of December was released in 2019.
Paul was married to fashion model Anne De Zogheb from 1963 to 2000 and they had together five daughters, born in the U.S. He then married Anna Anka (2008 – 2010), a Swedish-American model, actress, and author, and has a son from her named Ethan. In 2016, at the age of 75, he married Lisa Pemberton, his girlfriend of six years.
His daughter Amanda Anka is best known for her work on Buffy the Vampire. His daughter Anthea Anka, who sang with him a duette on the song Do I Love You (1998), is a screenwriter. She wrote the screenplay of the successful drama movie Battlecreeks (2017) and co-wrote the action thriller Alleyscat (2016), among others.