Influence of Black Music: An ADVANCE x JUNO Talks panel - The JUNO Awards

For the 50th JUNO Awards, we partnered with ADVANCE for a discussion on the influence of Black Music with a focus on the historical impacts of Black music in Canada, its cultural influence, and its contributions to the music industry. The conversation included host, Norman Otis Richmond and panelists, Akeel Henry, Ammoye, Billy Newton-Davis, Dalton Higgins, and Melanie Durrant.

Watch the panel on YouTube or read the transcript below.

 

Full Transcription – ADVANCE x JUNO Talks: Influence of Black Music 

 

Introduction
With deep respect, we would like to honour and acknowledge the many sovereign nations across Canada whose treaty lands we are gathering on. For time immemorial, diverse nations have cared for these traditional territories in unceded lands. For this, we thank you. CARAS, the JUNO Awards, MusiCounts, and Advance would like to take this time to acknowledge the deep pain felt by the Indigenous communities this past week. We offer our deepest condolences to the families of the 215 children whose lives were taken at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. We stand in solidarity with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, all residential school survivors and Indigenous communities across Canada.

Norman Otis Richmond
Welcome aboard Advance and JUNO Awards, we’re going to be talking about the influence of Black music to the Canadian situation we’re living in in Toronto, Canada. I wanted to give everyone a minute to do a self introduction and talk about yourself and where you’re coming from, who you work with, and all of that good stuff. And I guess let’s start with, well, I’m a gentleman, but let’s start with Ammoye.

Ammoye
Right, so I’m Jamaican. I was born and raised in Jamaica, grew up in the Church, raised by my grandparents and so gospel is my base and reggae music, of course. And my biggest influence on reggae music was Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and the Eye Trees for harmonies. And then I migrated to Toronto, Canada, after my grandmother passed in my teenage years, and I came to Canada, Toronto, to live with my mom and joined the Church there and continued singing in the Church choir and saw people like Jully Black doing their thing.

And I recognized, because I’ve been singing in the choir for forever, so at that point, I realized I could do it. It was a passion of mine, and I could do it professionally. Seeing people like Jully Black, I decided to do that, dropped out of Seneca College and pursued music and never looked back. And from there I’ve worked with people like Michael Bublé singing backgrounds. I’ve opened for many of the international superstars in reggae music. I’ve now gotten my 5th, this year was my 5th, JUNO nomination, and I’ve opened and worked with people like the Arkells. And so it’s been a journey indeed. And I’m looking forward to talking more with everybody.

Norman Otis Richmond
One other question. What Church did you come out of? What denomination of the Christian Church?

Ammoye
Pentecostal.

Norman Otis Richmond
Amen Hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus.

Ammoye
Amen Hallelujah, talking in tongues and all of that. Yes, oh yes.

Norman Otis Richmond
All right. I guess we can go to Billy.

Billy Newton-Davis
Hi, everyone. I’m Billy Newton-Davis, and I’ve been singing all my life. I started in Church at five singing Precious Lord Take My Hand in Cleveland, Ohio, and I had dreams of the Broadway stage and was a great admirer of Sammy Davis and Dorothy Dandridge, and just all of that stuff. I watched Ed Sullivan, but the Church brought me forward. I, later on, went on to live in Cleveland and do a lot of great things there.

I had a band. Well, before that, I had Church. I had a band. Then I went to University, then Broadway was what I wanted. I got to New York, I did Broadway, and that’s kind of how it all started. I came to Toronto in a show called Eubie, and I did it here for, like, seven weeks. It was supposed to continue. It didn’t. And here I am, many, many years later and so happy to be in the company of all these beautiful artists that I’m sitting with today. I’ve had the opportunity to be around all of them. But I just had some great opportunities.

I really think that Salome Bey is my reason. Loved her to death worked with her, did most of her pieces with her. And here I am. I won some JUNO awards. I sang with the Nylons. Oh, it goes on because I’m the old guy in the bunch. So hello, everybody. Thank you for having me.

Norman Otis Richmond
And Akeel. How are you doing, sir?

Akeel Henry
Hey, everybody. My name is Akeel Henry. Born and raised in Toronto. Jamaican background, just like everybody else so far. Raised in the Church. I’ve been playing in Church since I was like, six years old. Pentecostal. So, yeah, I’m a music producer. I worked with Trey Songz, Ty Dolla Sign, Kid Ink, Tony Braxton, to name a few. And, yeah, happy to be here. First JUNO nomination, Producer of the Year, which is great. And also for another song by Savannah Ré, “Solid”. So two nominations here. So yup, just happy to be here.

Norman Otis Richmond
So can we hear from Melanie?

Melanie Durrant
Yeah. Hi, my name is Melanie Durant. I’m a singer-songwriter from Toronto. I’ve been singing my whole life. I was humming before I was actually singing, so I can’t say what age I started because I just came out singing like the frog, “Hello, my baby. Hello, my honey.” Like a crazy person. I sing with my mom. We do a Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Diana Ross and The Supremes tribute show. We do casinos and corporate parties. I’ve worked with, goodness, Statik Selektah. I’ve worked with Lil X. I’ve opened for Jay Z, 50 Cent, everybody and anybody to be honest. I worked with Jill Scott. I was in Rent. I’m Jamaican, Vincentian, Nova Scotian, Aboriginal, Irish, and Scottish. And I think that pretty much covers it all.

Norman Otis Richmond
I’ll tell you a secret. My son, he always had a picture of you from the time he was a little bitty fellow. So I have pictures of you in my house from that time. Long time ago. Not long time ago because you’re not ancient, like me. But my son still is a big fan of yours. I used to see you in Toronto. It was at a Chicken Deli.

Melanie Durrant
That’s my mom. My mom was at the Chicken Deli, but we look the same.

Norman Otis Richmond
No. I saw your mother at the Chicken Deli, not you. Yeah. You were too little then.

Melanie Durrant
Awesome.

Norman Otis Richmond
Yes. We wanted all of you to name your favourite moment in your career so far.

Melanie Durrant
I can take that. My favorite moment in my whole career actually just happened when I released my single, “Listen” off my brand new album, Where I’m At and Michael Jackson’s guitar player reposted it and told everybody on his page, on his Instagram, to follow me and that I’m amazing. And I was crying for, like, a good hour because I was just so touched. And, yeah, that’s my favourite moment in my entire career up to date.

Ammoye
That’s awesome. Mine, I will say, is I was invited to perform at the EXIT Festival in Serbia, three times so far, but the first time I remember, they said my set time was going to be 500 a.m in the morning. And I was like, 500 a.m? Who is up at 500 a.m to see the show at 500 a.m? But yeah, they were like up, when I came on stage, it was packed. I was shocked. These people were jumping up to reggae music and singing the lyrics to my song at 500 a.m in the morning. So that was a shock for me and a pleasant surprise. That was a great moment.

Billy Newton-Davis
Wow. There’s so many because I’m the old guy here. There’s so many wonderful experiences. I really think that performing with Sammy Davis Jr. on Broadway, of all the things I did, it was something I wanted in my life and I got it. And I remember getting the gig because winning JUNOs is a big deal. Having Céline Dion on my album was a big deal because everybody thought it was her album, but it was my album. But I think working with Sammy was the greatest joy after watching him on Ed Sullivan for all those years. You guys weren’t born yet.

Norman Otis Richmond
Let me say that even geniuses make mistakes. And I made a big mistake. Dalton Higgins has not introduced himself.

Dalton Higgins
Yeah. Totally. No worries. I’m glad to be here amongst a bunch of super mega talented Black music practitioners. I’m essentially, the two minute version, I’m a longtime media professional based in Toronto, and actually, some of my earliest introductions, engaging media were working with Otis, Norman Otis Richman, back at CKLN 88.1 FM. So I’m glad to be here, sharing this digital stage with Otis. And yeah, I work as a publicist and a PR strategist so I’ve managed publicity campaigns over the last decade for a wide range of artists, some Grammy Award winners and nominees like Buju Banton to Aloe Blacc to A-trak out of L.A.

I’ve done some great campaigns with a lot of international rappers and R&B singers, like Giggs out of the UK or Snoh Aalegra. And I work with a lot of JUNO award winners and nominees, people ranging from Jazz Cartier to Kardinal Offishall, Classified, Allan Rayman. Yeah. So I’ve had a pretty good run at it as far as publicity over the last eleven years. And also, I have written six books. So some of the kids, the kids know me as the guy who wrote the book about Drake.

Norman Otis Richmond
Let’s stay with you. Dalton, I wanted to ask you what was the hardest moment of your career thus far?

Dalton Higgins
Yeah, the toughest moment might have been, I think, as a media practitioner back in the late 90s, kind of fully recognizing that there’s so few little to no opportunities for really good sort of Black journalists. There was a crew of us journalists, mostly working in print at the time, and we just sort of looked at the landscape, the Canadian media landscape, and we’re like, there’s like, no opportunities here. So that meant having to get the hell out of Dodge and make moves in the U.S. So I started writing for The Source magazine, which is the Bible of hip hop culture, been around forever, wrote for them for many years. Wrote for Vibe magazine, which is a popular magazine in the U.S and also freelancing for a bunch of other magazines in the U.S.

I think it was kind of like that was my wake up call. My epiphany is just like you’re sort of sending out your resume and you know you’re a good writer. You write what’s great, high, good art, integrity. And you’ve studied the trade. I did a book and magazine publishing program here, a degree in English literature and that type of thing. So you did the work you put in the work, but there’s just no opportunity. So you kind of have to get the hell out of Dodge and a lot of musicians I work with in a PR standpoint they still have that feeling in 2021 that they got to get the hell out of Dodge to make that money. So for me, that would be the hardest.

I think moments kind of looking at the Canadian media landscape is very much the same because even somebody like you, Otis, I’m more shocked and dismayed that you’re not working at The Toronto Star, doing work with the CBC, these types of places, because in the community, we know you as being a sort of walking encyclopedia of Black music and history. But it’s shocking to me. So that would be my toughest moment.

Norman Otis Richmond
Well, I’ve been fired by the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and I’ve written for the Star, The Globe and Mail and the National Post, Billboard magazine. But I’ve been fired many times because of being a proud Black radical. I’ve never shied away. We don’t get anything as Black people or as African people or people of colour, unless we take a stand. Unfortunately for us, as an individual, it doesn’t pay off. But we do help a lot of other people. Could we discuss the roots of Black music in Canada and its impact on our national culture? Could we start with Billy?

Billy Newton-Davis
Well, it’s really interesting Otis, because I had an interview with Simone Denny a few days ago, and she said something so beautiful, and it was, “We need to lift each other up. We need to lift each other up.” And I just sort of got attached to that whole feeling of the support that we have to give each other. There is not one artist in this country that I’ve not heard basically and that I don’t love. Jully Black is so cool and divine. Brown is so fabulous. And we hear about Drake and we hear about The Weeknd, but we have Ammoye and we have Melanie, we have the talent.

I think my first thing about it is we have to lift each other up and we have to talk to each other. That’s how I see it happening in the beginning, because everything else is marketing, great management, great lawyers. All that stuff is part of it. But I think lifting up is what I want to project and let people know that that’s our job to do as artists with each other. Did I answer your question?

Norman Otis Richmond
Go ahead. Did someone say they want to ask me a question?

Billy Newton-Davis
No. I said, Did I answer your question?

Norman Otis Richmond
Oh, you answered it. You’re very articulate.

Billy Newton-Davis
And what was beautiful, like Dalton for instance. I didn’t really know what Dalton did, but this is the Daltons, the Kevin Pennants. We’ve got to be able to work with these kids more and lift them up into the journalistic viewpoints of what’s going on with us, because we can sing about it and perform about it. But someone’s got to tell our stories. So that was very impressive Dalton what you said to me.

Dalton Higgins
Thank you.

Norman Otis Richmond
Can we hear from Melanie?

Melanie Durrant
Yes. What was the question?

Norman Otis Richmond
Oh, the question was, what was your hardest moment of your career?

Melanie Durrant
The hardest moment of my career was getting shelved by Motown. When I had signed by Motown, it was so exciting and everybody was so proud and excited for what was next and then I got shelved. So that part wasn’t exciting but strange thing is, upon signing the actual contract, I asked my lawyer, “How do I get out of this?” It’s like I had a feeling or I’ve seen other people get shelved, amazing talent get shelved. And I’m like, how did that happen? And how do I make that happen to me? So the answer was, the music is your intellectual property, and that never changes. The only thing that the label owns is this hard drive with the recording. So after five years, you can re-record or do whatever you want.

Dalton Higgins
You put out a great song with Common, too. You put out a great single. Common is one of my favorite rappers. I remember that single. Great song.

Melanie Durrant
The crazy thing about that is he actually asked to be on the song. I’m very, I guess independent, and I don’t like to ask for anything. I like to do stuff myself. So when I heard he wanted to be on the song, I was like, give the man the song, of course. And then, to add insult to injury, the producer accidentally erased it. So had to redo the music for it. Yeah, it was crazy.

Norman Otis Richmond
Can we hear from Akeel?

Akeel Henry
The toughest moment I would say is breaking in. I feel like the industry is getting way bigger in Toronto, which is great, but it wasn’t always like that. And it’s not very clear where to start sometimes for people. So I feel like I was lucky meeting the right people and them helping. But at first, when I was just, like, graduating College, I was like, okay, where am I going to start? Where do I begin? So that was the toughest, but I was able to kind of just work with everybody to kind of get my way in type thing.

Norman Otis Richmond
Did you ever meet Big Ricky or had he passed away when you started working with L.A and Babyface?

Akeel Henry
I’ve never met him, no. I started working with Babyface two years ago.

Norman Otis Richmond
Okay. All right. Can we talk about and discuss the roots of Black music in Canada and its impact on the national culture of Canada? Akeel, if you wanted to deal with that.

Akeel Henry
Oh, I’m sorry. Say that one more time.

Norman Otis Richmond
Could you talk about the roots of Black music in Canada and its impact on the national culture?

Akeel Henry
I don’t know if I’m the best person to talk about all of this, but I’ll try. I feel like Canada, while Toronto specifically, because I can talk about that. There’s so much immigrants and there’s so many people who come from different places and kind of bring their sound here. So I feel like that’s at least my experience of what Canadian music is, it’s a mixture of the Caribbean, African, and everything else. But I’m sure somebody else can answer way deeper than that.

Norman Otis Richmond
Billy, go ahead.

Billy Newton-Davis
Well, you know, I remember my first JUNO, and I was nominated with Glen Ricketts, and there was another gentleman, his name just escapes my mind. I had just come from New York, so I wasn’t really knowledgeable about the West Indian culture, the Trinidadian culture. But I’m going to tell you guys something, I met this fabulous girl, that rest or soul, and I’ll never forget her. I love her with all my heart, her name was Maxine. Maxine was in the film business, and she brought me into West Indian culture.And that was when Carabana was on University Avenue. It was when it was really real.

It just was fascinating to me what I didn’t know and what I started hearing the Bamboo and just hearing like so many artists. It was a great influence on me so that I can understand. Because I got soul, I’m gospel, my mother and father are Southern roots. So West Indian culture just lifted me. I guess I’m going to use that word again. It lifted me and gave me some knowledge on where I really came from.

And I think that that’s something that has to be remembered where we come from. No matter if I’m from Cleveland or this or that. But my roots are some West Indian roots somewhere. And then when I saw that those Churches and that Pentecostal feeling which the girls were talking about earlier, it all measures. It all measures up to wow. I just brought another element of art and song and dance to Toronto, but we are a melting pot of Blackness that is just wild. It’s Trinidadian, Jamaican, West Indian, East Indian.

I mean, it just goes on and on. So I’m very proud, a very proud member of the community to be able to sit in that and enjoy that and explore that and really share those moments and those things with people rather than just that regular Toronto Queen Street trying to make it thing. We’re so big guys, we’re so big. So I can talk about it.

Ammoye
I would love to give respect to places. Like for me when I came up in Toronto, the year that I came was ’94 and you talked about Bamboo, that was a place I would go and get my reggae music feel. And little Jamaica, people like Jay Douglas, who was doing the reggae music there that he did. And giving hold to us, the beginnings of getting recognized was Salome Bey, you spoke of, and Liberty Silver getting their first JUNO and watching those people do their thing and giving me the inspiration.

Like I said, Jully Black was one of the biggest inspiration on me, seeing that I can actually go out and do music professionally. So giving respect to those people because they paved the way for people like me to come out and do what I’m doing. And I would love to see the commercial radio and the mainstream radio give reggae music more respect. You know what I mean? But one by one will be kicking down those doors.

Billy Newton-Davis
It should just be music. We should just be hearing that when I’m hearing Alexa or Siri, why isn’t that not included? Oh, she’s talking in the background. Oh, my God. I said her name. But I want to hear more of that, I want to hear more of that. So I will have to connect myself more to that.

Dalton Higgins
Yeah, totally. I’m a strong proponent of lifelong learning. It’s a good question. So one of my current obsessions or fixations is… A lot of the clients I work with, they just happen to be rappers, R&B singers, electronic based music, many of them are in their 20s, perhaps 30s. But what I try to do is one of the reasons, just from publicity standpoint and I work with Ryerson University. It’s a new professional music program that’s launching in September. And one of the things I want to be doing more of come September and moving forward with this four year degree program is having millennials, Gen Xers, Gen Z that people in their teens, early 20s, knowing who Salome Bey is the late all these people referencing Jay Douglas. We have this rich, deep history in Canada as far as African Canadian music contributions.

But what I find is a lot of my rap and R&B and the EDM clients they have no idea who any of these figures are. So I think it’s important that we were sharing these living, breathing histories with some of the up-and-comers. And I’m a Gen Xer, so I’m kind of like that bridge generation. The first book I wrote was in 2002 about MuchMusic and Maser T. So what I do is I say, “Hey.” They say, “I want to know about some Black music histories and music and all these things that nobody cares about now.” But in that book, which you can take out at the Toronto Public Library, well libraries across Canada, it literally lays out these histories. Right, so we can know more about Molly Johnson and the Billy Newton-Davises. It’s all in the book.

Ammoye
Exactly.

Dalton Higgins
That’s what I do. I point people to the public libraries. We’ll take out the books, learn more about our history.

Melanie Durrant
That’s crazy. I was going to bring up Molly Johnson. Actually, my mom bought that dress from Molly Johnson. She used to work on Queen Street in a clothing shop. And, of course, she’s a beautiful singer and she’s been around a while. But at the time, I was probably about seven years old, and my mom had said, “I like that dress right there.” And she’s like, “Oh, sweetie, that’ll look so good on you.” And then this whole transaction was made. But I wore that dress in my music video, and it’s so many years later that I’m like, I can’t believe that Molly Johnson sold us this dress. It was this moment in history and then I’m reliving it by putting the thing on myself. And, yeah, I just had to say that.

Billy Newton-Davis
Molly Johnson is precious. Sorry, go ahead.

Norman Otis Richmond
I’m saying that we talk about Molly Johnson. But a lot of people don’t realize that Lonnie Johnson, a great blues singer who performed with Duke Ellington. He lived in Toronto and actually passed here in Toronto. Mark Miller has a book about the great singer, Lonnie Johnson. That’s part of the history of Canada and the part of the history of Toronto. But a lot of people don’t know about it.

Dalton Higgins
Yeah.

Norman Otis Richmond
Go ahead.

Dalton Higgins
But this is why your voice is critical to all of this, Otis. Not just this event, but moving forward because I was just talking to somebody yesterday about this idea, like George Clinton. He lived in here in Mississauga and all this stuff. Rick James, there are all these histories that people don’t know. And I’m just like, yeah, that’s why again, at Ryerson University, that’s the program. I’m going to put together some courses that deal with all of this.

Norman Otis Richmond
I wanted to let people know that I did an interview with Garry Shider, the Diaper Man, “Cosmic Slop.” And he told me that Rick James auditioned for Parliament-Funkadelic, and he couldn’t make the cut.

Dalton Higgins
Wow.

Norman Otis Richmond
I had that on tape. He really respected Rick, but he basically said Rick couldn’t make the cut.

Dalton Higgins
Listen. Well, Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. He got cut from his high school JV team, right. So that’s comparable.

Billy Newton-Davis
Well Otis, I want to jump in on one little thing. You know, Tabby Johnson sang with Rick James for years, toured with him. Now that’s Molly’s sister, and we need to talk about her. We need to talk about that. It’s unbelievable, isn’t it, guys?

Dalton Higgins
It is also with the Tabby Johnson thing, too. I don’t know if you’ll kill me if I say this, but no, but you know where Rick James goes, “I’m Rick James, b*tch.” Tabby said that he was talking to her.

Ammoye
Oh, really?

Dalton Higgins
You know, like Dave Chappelle, y’know that whole “I’m Rick James, b*tch.” Tabby was saying that he was, Rick James was, like, talking to her.

Billy Newton-Davis
She’s got stories, right?

Ammoye
And even talking about people like Oscar Peterson because looking over some of the history of Canadian Black musicians, when I saw that, because of him, he inspired people like Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette. They were inspired by him because of what he brought into music and being able to navigate through the white dominance of the music industry that it was back then. So people like him should definitely get respect.

Melanie Durrant
Yes. Randomly, I went to high school with his grandson. I didn’t know the whole time. And he said, “Melanie, I wanted to know, do you want to see my grandfather in concert?” And I was like, “Your grandfather, who’s your grandfather?” And he’s holding tickets in his hand like this, “Melanie,” he said, “Oscar Peterson.” I was like, “What?” I know. He gave me tickets for me and my mom to go see Oscar Peterson. I was so blown away, I was surprised he knew who Oscar Peterson was.

Norman Otis Richmond
Y’know Oscar Peterson was a great singer. There was a story that Nat King Cole told Oscar Peterson that as long as he don’t stick to the piano, don’t be singing because Oscar was a great vocalist as well.

Melanie Durrant
Okay.

Norman Otis Richmond
Yeah. Oscar, he could sing. I mean, really, really sing. I think you can go on YouTube and check his vocals out.

Melanie Durrant
I’m going to have to do that.

Ammoye
Me too.

Billy Newton-Davis
Well, I want to say to Melanie, your Mom, your Mom! She’s a diva. She’s brilliant. And I know the Tina Turner thing and all that stuff, but your Mom is a brilliant actress, brilliant television and film actress. And she’s beautiful, of course. And, of course, she can sing. But I think Karen is just the bomb as well. Like I said, it just keeps going.

Melanie Durrant
A fierce performer as well. She’s got that stage presence as well.

Billy Newton-Davis
Just like, unbelievable.

Melanie Durrant
Yeah. They command that stage.

Billy Newton-Davis
The funny thing about her doing Tina Turner thing. It was great that she did Tina Turner, but I always saw Karen killing it. She just always killed it. She killed it in everything.

Melanie Durrant
She had to. There was only so much room. They only let so many of us in at one time, right. At one point, she was writing original music and trying to get a record deal. And they said, we already got a Black person. It was Liberty. We already got one of those. And had overheard a conversation between white execs and they had a saying that they thought was very amusing. “If it’s Black, throw it back.” Really.

Billy Newton-Davis
Wow.

Melanie Durrant
Really.

Dalton Higgins
Just this idea. Sorry, Otis, but just this idea, that sort of these token gestures, like, we already have one Black. So that happens to this day. I question progress because as a media practitioner, I go into newsrooms, and it’s just amazing to me that it’s just like, yeah, one Black reporter. And then they’re celebrated and commemorated one. It’s just unbelievable. That’s what we do in Canada. So it’s just really frustrating, because that still happens to this day. It’s not like something from the 70s or 80s. That’s what happens now. Yeah.

Ammoye
Absolutely.

Norman Otis Richmond
I wanted Billy to talk about his working with Céline Dion. Billy Newton-Davis, brother Billy? Have we lost Billy?

Billy Newton-Davis
My pardon.

Norman Otis Richmond
We wanted you to talk about your work with Céline Dion.

Billy Newton-Davis
I was on my second album. I was recording in Vancouver with a rocker. Why? I don’t know. Anyway, God rest his soul. Brian MacLeod, he was great. But those things happen. Anyway, I had this Dan Hill song, “Can’t Live With You Can’t Live Without You.” And I had recorded it. I met Dan, who we all know is wonderful. But I went back to Vancouver, and I thought we should make this a duet. And in my mind, I had Regina Belle in my mind. And then for star stuff, I thought, Gloria Estefan. But I wasn’t able to get either one of them.

And so this guy, Lucriani I think his name was, from Montreal came out to Vancouver and said, I’m really rushing along here, “I have a great singer. You should hear her.” And I heard Céline. And I thought, wow, because I wasn’t really well versed with the females in Toronto at that time. And I was still on an American stint. But little did we know at that time, they were launching Mariah, and they were launching Céline. Anyway, I love Céline. We went to New York. We did the recording and that’s history. I mean, there’s a whole bunch behind, but she came in. She was still in Berlitz. It was her first English song, to my knowledge that she had ever recorded.

But I was happy to have her at that time. And it was a match. But I’m going to tell you guys, it was tricky. As we moved along to the video. “Can’t Live With You” as a romantic song. They separated us, and there was a lot of separation. Let’s just say there were things that I kind of picked up on, but I didn’t, but I was also kind of closeted as well. And I was just trying to do something big and make something big happen.

I’m a different person today. In that sense. I speak my mind. I speak for my people and I speak for people. But my experience with was wonderful. She was very professional. She was 18, and I kick started her career somehow. I don’t want to just pack too much back there, but I kick started that. But from that point, she was launched. I wasn’t. So I think I’ll end it there.

Norman Otis Richmond
Let’s talk about the significance of iconic artists and how they’ve influenced the current artists. Let’s start with Michie Mee, Liberty, and Salome Bey.

Melanie Durrant
I did Rainboworld, it was written by Salome Bey, and I went to school with her daughter, SATE, and she was my best friend. And we were in the school of the arts and one of the first shows that I had ever done was scripted singing, and it’s musical. And Salome actually had a lot of today’s talent within that show. She was, like, grooming the kids. And it was a wonderful experience for me to be part of. So, yeah, I just wanted to bring that up.

Dalton Higgins
I could tackle Michie Mee.

Billy Newton-Davis
Fabulous.

Dalton Higgins
Totally. Michie Mee, Canada’s first Lady Rap, the first Canadian rap artist to get signed to a major recording contract, First Priority Atlantic. And I grew up in a neighborhood they call it or it’s affectionally referred to I guess as, Little Jamaica. Eglinton and Marlee. So I grew up out there. And so I’ve known Michie because she went to school in the west end of Toronto C.R. Marchant, Weston Collegiate. And I went to school out there. So I’ve known her even before she was rapping.

To be honest, you know what I mean, what happens is we used to congregate on Eglinton Avenue West. There’s a record store out there called Monica’s, Monica’s Cosmetics and beauty shop. And the family there, who are like family to me, the Lewis Clan Monica and George Lewis and Junior. Their son is my friend. That’s where some of the first hip hop parties was happening. Some of the first hip hop promotions, right? When people read about Run-D.M.C, when Run-D.M.C did a concert at Bloor subway station.

So there was a club in there called Rock ‘N’ Roll Heaven inside Bloor subway station. Heavy metal bands used to play and all that. And one of the promoters there was the Lewis Clan’s other son, Derek, arrest in peace. He passed away. So I was helping them carry records back then. You know what I mean? To Run-D.M.C concerts happening in the Bloor subway station. You know what I mean? So this is the time again, Michie Mee, she’s been putting out music from going back then. And a lot of the people that grew up around there, some of the early producers, this guy K-4ce, Shawn Morrison. He’s the guy that coined the term TDOT. So you know how people say Toronto is a TDOT?

Ammoye
Yeah.

Dalton Higgins
Some of my mentors that grew up in the same neighborhood, he lived down the street from here. He’s the guy that coined the term. So these are some of Michie Mee’s first producers and all that. Right, so Michie Mee, man, she’s a gem. She’s been doing it and she’s still doing it. And she’s a part of the rap tribute as far as the JUNOS. So look out for that. I got to work on that. So, yeah, look out for her on that Michie Mee, Canada’s first lady of rap. Salute!

Billy Newton-Davis
Very nice as well.

Ammoye
I just shared the stage with her a couple of days ago on The Block JUNOS sessions as well. She’s always a good support as well. She’s never afraid to share the stage with up-and-comers like myself.

Norman Otis Richmond
This is going to be the last question because we’re going to have to open it. We’re going to open it up for the audience. But I wanted to ask Melanie to tell us about the legacy of music in your home and your influences. Karen Durantt is your Mother.

Melanie Durrant
Yes, she is. She sang to me when I was in her womb, you sing to your baby when you’re pregnant as a woman, right. And when I came out, she was still singing to me. And I was allowed to sing and dance on the furniture, on the table, on the coffee table. We came bursting out from the curtains singing. And then I guess as an adult now we make it. That’s our job. That’s our show. That’s our thing. It’s just my childhood displayed for everybody to see. So obviously, I love my Mom.

And she’s always played amazing music for me. Motown, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, the list goes on. I can’t even name everybody. Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Miracles, all good music. And then started incorporating rock ‘n’ roll and stuff in there, like Aerosmith and ACDC and anything with Pat Benatar. All of these songs she was performing at clubs, nightclubs and stuff like that until the nightclub scene kind of went down and they started hiring one guy as a DJ. Actually, before that, the band started just going on the gigs by themselves and being like, “Give me $5 and free beers.” It’s like, oh, you guys are just killing the industry. So then she started doing Tina Turner and all that stuff. And then I joined her.

Billy Newton-Davis
Wow.

Norman Otis Richmond
We’re controlling this hour. So we wanted to open it up for questions from the audience. I know that Melanie, Billy, Akeel, and Dalton can answer all of these questions about the music industry here and around the globe.

Billy Newton-Davis
Yes.

Norman Otis Richmond
I think I’m on radio. I started to say and you’re listening to, but you are actually Melanie, Billy, Akeel, Dalton and the matinee idol himself, Norman Otis Richmond. I guess probably everybody in the audience is probably laughing, but that’s cool. We’re looking for some. Question one. Okay, we’re going with question one. All right, let me hit you guys with this. Could you put the question back up again? Okay, if you were to narrow it down to a few iconic Black music creatives who shaped you guys?

Melanie Durrant
Salome Bey, Oscar Peterson Liberty Silver.

Billy Newton-Davis
Liberty Silver.

Ammoye
Frankie Paul, like so many.

Melanie Durrant
Michie Mee, Dream Warriors.

Ammoye
Maestro-Fresh.

Norman Otis Richmond
The Dream Warriors did a song with Marvin Gay’s father in law. Marvin Gay’s father in law, I forgot his name. Dalton, can you help me with Marvin Gay’s father in law? The brother. He was Slim Gaillard. I’m sorry, Slim Gaillard. I remember he was at a club here, and he baked a cake while he was performing. And after his performance, he served the cake. He gave everybody a slice of his cake.

Billy Newton-Davis
And we also don’t want to forget that Washington Savage actually shaped Deborah Cox’s career, but it wasn’t just Deborah Cox. It was Simone Denny. I don’t know Christine’s last name, and there was enough Dawn. But Deborah’s career was shaped by that dynamic of people. And she is a Canadian girl and her sister is a Canadian actress. Her name escapes me.

Melanie Durrant
Nicole.

Billy Newton-Davis
What’s her name again?

Melanie Durrant
Nicole.

Billy Newton-Davis
Yeah, but Deborah Cox.

Ammoye
She’s a major.

Billy Newton-Davis
She’s killer.

Ammoye
And Tamia as well. And Tamia.

Melanie Durrant
Yes!

Billy Newton-Davis
Tamia! Is she West coast? Tamia is from Windsor, right?

Dalton Higgins
Even in the hip hop realm, what’s interesting now is that some of these iconic figures are starting to get recognition. There’s a group called Main Source and two thirds of the group, it’s two brothers from Scarborough, the McKenzie brothers. And they put out an album called Breaking Atoms. And it’s the first album that you heard, Nas. We all know the rapper Nas. He’s one of the best rappers of all time. The first time you heard him kill some bars on a track called “Live at the Barbecue.”

It’s on an album called Breaking Atoms, recorded by a group called Main Source. One third of the group’s Large Professor from New York. And then two thirds of the group is from Toronto. You know what I mean? And that’s one of the best rap albums. You know what I mean? Like of all time. And, yeah, first time you heard Nas and Nas killed it. So look it up, please. It’s an album called Breaking Atoms. Song’s called “Live of the Barbecue.” But a lot of people don’t know that it’s two Canadian kids that’s attached to that album. One of the greatest rap albums of all time.

Ammoye
Wow.

Dalton Higgins
Right. So these are the types of things that now we’re starting to recognize these hidden sort of gems of Canadian Black music history.

Billy Newton-Davis
Well, yeah. I mean, the Jackie Richardsons, the Kim Richardsons, the Shakura S’Aidas. Shakura is like a blues diva. And I mean, she really took it on. I didn’t take blues on, I take R&B on, but Shakura to God. But SATE and Tuku Matthews they shaped the industry. A guy in L.A, by the way, Mishka who left us but he still loves our scene. And I know he miss us. I think a lot of people who moved to L.A they miss us. They don’t want to admit it, but they miss us. I chose not to go to L.A.

Ammoye
And what Drake has done for the music industry, too, like Drake has taken it to another level. Like you can’t not talk about Drake.

Billy Newton-Davis
But The Weeknd. I was looking at that show. He did half time. It killed. I mean, really, it killed. It was very, uniquely different. It’s solid. He is an original of that moment of his moment. He is original.

Norman Otis Richmond
Has anyone heard the Temptations cover of The Weeknd’s song “Earned it?”

Ammoye
Really? No.

Norman Otis Richmond
Terry Weeks sings it. It’s a beautiful,beautiful, beautiful song.

Ammoye
Wow, I have to check that out.

Melanie Durrant
Billy, you mentioned working with Glen Ricketts, the reggae singer, right?

Billy Newton-Davis
Well, his son…

Melanie Durrant
That’s where we’re going.

Billy Newton-Davis
Glenn is phenomenal, but his dad, Glenn Rickket’s is killer, killer singer. Killer. I miss him.

Melanie Durrant
And so is his son, Glenn Lewis.

Norman Otis Richmond
Glenn Ricketts is my brother. He took a plane from Los Angeles with my mother. And they talked all the way from Los Angeles to Toronto. And Glenn asked my mother who is she going to see. She says, “Norman Richmond” and Glenn hit the ceiling. And they said, “That’s one of my best friends.” Me and Glenn, I guess we still are inseparable. But Glenn is in Jamaica, Kingston now.

Billy Newton-Davis
Yes.

Norman Otis Richmond
We are beginning to run out of time, but I want to hit. Is there any more questions?

Billy Newton-Davis
We’re not running out of time yet are we?

Dalton Higgins
I see there’s one question here in the group. The question is, how did Black music get to the point where Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes are influenced by it?

Norman Otis Richmond
Yeah. Go ahead. Who wants to answer that?

Dalton Higgins
I can start. I mean, I’ll say within a couple of seconds, rap music and R&B are the most streamed musics of today and have been for the past, I think five years. Our musics are consumed more so than anyone else. So what that means is that non-Black musicians and music practitioners, Black-music-come-latelies, they’re going to want to sort of cash in on that. So that’s what I see happening. So what happens, too, is there’s a lot of appropriation that happens. A lot of people taking the art form, you’re getting sort of a watered down version of it.

That’s what I see with some of Justin Bieber’s output. Some of it is okay. But some of it just sounds like watered down R&B and soul music, soul music that I grew up listening to. But that’s what I would say. Everybody’s trying. It’s a cash grab now. That’s the gold rush. Black music is the new gold rush.

Ammoye
And that’s been going on for years. They’ve been doing that for years.

Norman Otis Richmond
Crossover music was calypso and Harry Belafante. Apparently the first million-selling album was Harry Belafonte song, album I guess, Calypso. And Calypso gets no respect from the JUNO Awards. I don’t think they don’t have a category in the JUNO yet, and we were fighting for that many moons ago.

Billy Newton-Davis
Yeah, well, we need to fight for that category guys and whatever we have to do, I’m in to do it and help you do it.

Norman Otis Richmond
All right.

Billy Newton-Davis
Just let me know what you need.

Norman Otis Richmond
This is the last question. What is the future of Black music in Canada?

Melanie Durrant
Well, hopefully we get on the mainstream stations and we get support from the big moguls and stuff like that. And then we get hired to be on the board to have a voice within these rooms to empower more Black artists and enforce change. Right. And I’d like to see at the JUNOS to get some television time and to see more people that look like us being featured in commercial, and pictures and, images of us.

Billy Newton-Davis
And I mean hosting.

Melanie Durrant
Yes. Hosting 100% important.

Billy Newton-Davis
Yeah. So I’m here to lift all of you all up to do that. And you just tell me what to do. Actually, I’m going to do some research myself, but this calypso category, I think, is very important because I think that the West Indian culture, it’s bigger than the R&B thing when you kind of think about it because it is what it is. And I think we copycat a lot of the U.S stuff, but you cannot copycat West Indian music or culture.

Ammoye
Mainstream radio just needs to give our music the Caribbean music, reggae and calypso. Yes. And so on. All of that, just more respect, more love.

Melanie Durrant
Put some respect on it.

Ammoye
Yeah. We’re worthy, just as any other genre. You know what I mean?

Billy Newton-Davis
Yes.

Norman Otis Richmond
Because the Caribana brings in more money than anything else.

Ammoye
Exactly.

Norman Otis Richmond
Denham Jolly used to always say the only thing that the Caribbean community gets. You guys can sell the patties in the water and we’ll take the hotels, the airlines, the whole thing. I hate to sound so militant, but that’s just me.

Billy Newton-Davis
I don’t think that’s militant at all.

Dalton Higgins
And one part of the future with awards shows is like the JUNO Awards is splitting up of categories. So there’s more opportunities. So it’s kind of like the Rap Recording of the year. It’s one category at the JUNO Awards that’s supposed to accommodate everything having to do with rap music in Canada, whereas the Grammy Awards, they have four different categories for rap music, rap performance, rap album, rap. So that’s the Future and the JUNO Awards actually did it this year with the R&B category. Typically, it’s just the one category for best R&B and soul, but now it’s two categories. So there’s more opportunities to celebrate more Black artists. Right. So that’s the future. Definitely. There is a movement afoot to get the categories, so we have more split the categories out of them.

Norman Otis Richmond
All right. Now, first of all, we have come to, come to the end of the road, and I would like to thank everyone for joining, Advance and the JUNO Awards for this discussion. You can watch the 50th JUNO Awards on CBC this Sunday, June 6 at 800 p.m Eastern time. And for more information about other JUNO events, visit staging.junoawards.ca. And for more information about Advance, visit advancemusic.org. And in the words of the most honorable Marcus Garvey we will see you in the whirlwind and take care. Thank you for a great discussion. And I hope people enjoyed it. And we will see everyone. So take care.

Ammoye
Thank you, guys. So much.

Billy Newton-Davis
Thank you. Bye.

Featured Image: 2021 JUNO Award Nominee Akeel Henry (Jack Richardson Producer of the Year).