The Canadian music industry rejected Deborah Cox. Now she’s honored at the Junos

Click the play button below to listen to Tom Power’s full conversation with Deborah Cox on The Q interview Podcast.

The Q interview47:59Deborah Cox is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame decades after the industry closed her doors. Here’s what she thinks.

When most kids were mowing lawns or babysitting for a little extra cash, Deborah Cox was doing session work and getting paid to sing at just 12. The fact that she is who she is today — a platinum-selling artist and actress — comes as no surprise. But what might surprise some people is that Cox has struggled to get her career off the ground at home in Canada. Even though her talent was so clear, she was rejected by almost every major label in the country. It wasn’t until she moved to the United States that her career really took off and she became a legendary performer in R&B and beyond. Now she is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. She told her story to Tom Power, about being honored by Canada and how you hold the present with the past. 47:59

On Sunday, May 15, Deborah Cox will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Famemaking her the first black woman to receive this honor in its 44-year history.

Cox began performing in and around Toronto at the age of 12 before becoming a professional backup singer for Celine Dion. Today, she’s an award-winning, multi-platinum performer and actress, but in the ’90s, she was rejected by all major Canadian record labels.

“There was no support for black music [in Canada]”, said Cox Qof Tom Power in an interview. “And unfortunately, that’s what it was. So we took our talents, you know, to the United States. … We didn’t take no for an answer. We just knew we had something to offer. .”

In 1994, Cox and her road manager (and later, her husband), Lascelles Stephens, moved to Los Angeles to purchase a recording contract. Cox said the decision to leave her friends and family behind was difficult, but at home there was no infrastructure in place for her music.

Her life changed when Clive Davis, the American music mogul behind Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton, heard her demo and signed her to Arista Records. “He set up all these sessions and opportunities to work with all these producers, you know, and we were in the studio working with all these great, legendary people,” she recalled.

Through a series of tubes like where do we go from here, Nobody’s supposed to be here and Beautiful URCox helped launch the Canadian R&B scene that is now responsible for some of the greatest music in the world.

Despite the early rejection she faced in Canada, Cox said she “always had a very positive outlook” that helped her persist against all odds. But when she learned she would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, she was shocked.

“I never thought it was within my reach,” she said. “Like, I never thought about the impact I was actually having, you know, with all the hard work and everything I’ve done.”

When Power asked Cox how she felt about receiving the national honor knowing that the Canadian industry had rejected her in her early days, she said she was grateful that her journey was now recognized.

“The resounding message is that you have to believe in yourself. Otherwise, no one else will believe in you ⁠—and it’s as simple as that,” she said.

“I knew I had something to offer and it was only a matter of time before someone recognized it. And it’s beautiful that [the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences] recognized that.…And I’m still here, which is great.”


Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview conducted by Jennifer Warren.

Wherever you are in the world, you can tune in to the 2022 Juno Awards on Sunday, May 15. You can watch live on CBC-TV and CBC Gem, listen on CBC Radio One and CBC Music, and stream worldwide on CBCMusic.ca/junos.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(Radio Canada)

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