S.A.C. Black History Songwriters Series: Molly Johnson

Molly Johnson press photo
http://www.mollyjohnson.com
Known as one of Canada’s greatest voices, award-winning jazz vocalist Molly Johnson is a mother, singer-songwriter, artist and philanthropist, who has just released her highly anticipated new album, “Meaning To Tell Ya”. Produced by multiple GRAMMY Award winning Producer, Larry Klein.

Approaching 60 years on Earth and almost as many on stage, Molly Johnson has been active in Toronto music since appearing in 1960’s stage musicals in her native Toronto.

The six time JUNO nominee has recorded interpretations of everyone from Billie Holiday to Marvin Gaye, as well as writing her own songs. Johnson’s latest release, “Meaning to Tell Ya” has recently been nominated for a JUNO.

Studying ballet in her teens improved her singing ability and she found herself singing with local disco act Chocolate Affair. Little else is known about this group, but a following endeavour with Billy Reed and the Street People yielded Johnson’s first recorded out put. “Doin’ The Best We Can” is this band’s only album. There are solid funky blues cuts and soul covers on this record, which was partly recorded at the famous El Mocambo, which is pictured on the front cover.

As the decade closed, Johnson formed Alta Moda. She spent the next decade and change with this band, and later The Infidels, which had most of the same band members as Alta Moda. Johnson moonlighted in the mid 1980’s as a back-up singer for the alternative rock act Breeding Ground. This band made a couple of videos which were broadcast on MuchMusic.

At the time Alta Moda started, Johnson lived above Queen West haunt The Cameron House where she also played weekly “Blue Monday” jams. By 1992, The Infidels folded and Johnson decided to take a break from music. Voice-overs and ads paid the bills but she didn’t stay away from music for too long.

The next decade (millennium, in fact) saw a return to making music, and Johnson’s first self-titled C.D. came out in 2000.

She toured Europe, released “Another Day” in 2002, and “Messing Around” in 2006. “Lucky” garnered a JUNO for Vocal Jazz Album of 2009.

2019 finds Johnson back in the JUNO spotlight, with a nomination for last year’s release, “Meaning To Tell Ya.” There is even a vinyl edition of this release, almost certainly the first wax pressed with Johnson’s voice since the Alta Moda era. The C.D. includes mostly Johnson originals, along with a few covers, including Marvin Gaye’s sublime “Inner City Blues.”

As an activist, Johnson has involved herself in education and Black History Month, petitioning to have Lawrence Hill’s The Book Of Negroes turned into a television series, and for it’s inclusion on high school reading lists. The only Canadian high school curriculum book addressing racism, Johnson pointed out in an interview, continues to be To Kill A Mockingbird.

In 2007, she became an Officer of the Order of Canada, partly for her work with the Kumbaya AIDS charity.

More recently, Johnson started the KMJF in 2016. With a few ducats of arts funding, nothing from the city, and no corporate sponsorship, the Kensington Market Jazz Festival has put hundreds of bands on dozens of stages, in clubs, on the streets, and even in some alleyways, annually, for a glorious September weekend in the market.

Johnson has a few Ontario concerts scheduled in March, including in London, host city of this year’s JUNOs.

Blog post by Erik Twight 

Erik Twight is, at present, a Freelance Writer, maintaining a web presence specializing in current affairs, history, photography and music and producing a weekly podcast/radio show arranged thematically and with commentary for fun. Click here to read more.

Spotify Ep.5

Playlist:

Song: Meaning To Tell Ya
Album: Meaning To Tell Ya
Performed and written by: Molly Johnson

Song: Another Day
Album: Another Day
Performed by: Molly Johnson
Written by: Molly Johnson and Mark McLean

Song: Lucky
Album: Lucky
Performed by: Molly Johnson
Written by: Molly Johnson and Steve MacKinnon

Song: L.O.V.E
Album: Meaning To Tell Ya
Performed and written by: Molly Johnson

Song: Melody
Album: Another Day
Performed by: Molly Johnson
Written by: Molly Johnson and Craig Ross

Songwriters Association of Canada posts songwriter related news and events as a resource to members. Publishing these posts does not imply that the S.A.C. endorses the teacher, product, service, or company.

 

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S.A.C. Black History Songwriters Series: Dan Hill

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www.danhill.com
How does one describe the creative force driving Dan Hill? Nominated for a Grammy for Best Male Vocal, winner of a Grammy (as co-producer of “Seduces Me” on Celine Dion’s 30 plus million-selling “Falling Into You” album), winner of five Juno Awards and the Harold Moon Award (Canadian Lifetime Songwriting Achievement Award), Dan has recorded and released multiple gold and platinum albums.

Imagine this; you’re in your early twenties, you wrote and performed one of the biggest songs of the year. Not even Canada – big, but a monster seller in America, where artists would cover the song within a year and more cover versions would be released over the coming decades. To your father, you’ll never be Bruce Cockburn, and your success doesn’t mean much to the author and renowned Black Canadian civil rights activist. In about 30 years, you will come to terms with your relationship by releasing the record and the book “I Am My Father’s Son.” Bittersweet?

Dan Hill, best known for “Sometimes When We Touch,” grew up in one of Toronto’s inner suburbs, the son of American social activists and brother to two future authors. Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes) and his late sister Karen were both prominent Canadians, and Dan’s father Daniel G. Hill’s activism brought him to serve as the first full time Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1962. He married fellow civil rights campaigner Donna Bender in 1953, becoming one of Toronto’s first few mixed race couples. Needless to say, expectations were high when it came to the Hill children.

Born in 1954, Daniel Grafton Hill IV started playing guitar as a kid and was playing Yorkville coffeehouses while still a high school student. RCA Records signed him as a songwriter for a few years until Hill managed to leave RCA and release his first album on the Canadian GRT label in 1975. The eponymous debut yielded a Canadian hit, “You Make Me Want To Be.”

A couple of years later, Hill recorded a ballad he wrote at 17, when he felt insecure in a relationship with an older woman. “Sometimes When We Touch” was, of course, a massive success. It reached #3 in Billboard’s American charts, #1 in Canada and cover versions came quickly, from Tina Turner in 1978 and Cleo Laine in 1979, with many more versions to come.

Dan Hill went on to record more hits, including “It’s A Long Road” from Rambo’s debut, “First Blood” (recorded for the movie). “Can’t We Try?” was Billboard’s Adult Contemporary song of the year in 1987, and another big hit came the following year with “Never Thought (That I Could Love).”

Hill’s flair for composing epic songs led him to work with stars like Celine Dion (for which he won a Grammy). He has worked with many other modern hit-makers, such as Britney Spears, 98 Degrees, Michael Bolton and The Backstreet Boys.

Despite his five Junos, other awards and millions of records sold, Daniel Sr. seemed unimpressed with Dan’s achievements. After some success with country music, his father gave him grief for working in a racist genre. Rebelling against this, Hill described feeling indifferent about his own mixed race as a kid, and perhaps even postponing contemplation on this aspect of his identity, as a response to his always race-conscious father.

Oddly, Dan found himself in the throes of writer’s block in 2003 following the death of his father. He has described how sad times had previously inspired him to pick up a guitar and write, compounding the frustration of not composing.

In early 2009, Hill published I Am My Father’s Son; A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness. He has written for Macleans and elsewhere about other struggles in recent years; with his own son, the deaths of his father, mother, and sister, as well as prostate cancer, diagnosed shortly before a concert.

2010 saw the departure of lifelong friend and sometime musical collaborator Paul Quarrington. Hill also released his c.d. “Intimate” that year.

While he is best known for sweeping ballads, Hill’s folk / coffeehouse background led him to a variety of collaborations. He has worked with Nova Scotian Joe Sealy on “The Road” from the latter artist’s “Africville Suite” c.d.

Dan Hill keeps busy with performing (he was at Hugh’s Room in January) and he announced a deal with Ole (sic) Publishing in mid 2018. Hill also offers songwriting mentoring via Skype, if you contact him through his website, http://www.danhill.com.

Blog post by Erik Twight

Erik Twight is, at present, a Freelance Writer, maintaining a web presence specializing in current affairs, history, photography and music and producing a weekly podcast/radio show arranged thematically and with commentary for fun. Click here to read more.

Spotify Ep.5

Playlist:

Song: Sometimes When We Touch
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics written by: Dan Hill
Music written by: Mann

Song: I Am My Father’s Son
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics and music written by: Dan Hill

Song: You Make Me Want To Be
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics and music written by: Dan Hill

Song: I Fall All Over Again
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics and music written by: Dan Hill

 

Songwriters Association of Canada posts songwriter related news and events as a resource to members. Publishing these posts does not imply that the S.A.C. endorses the teacher, product, service, or company.

Pro Member Interview – Steve Smith

Steve Smith - SM

As a partner in the SA TrackWorks and Brkthbeat teams, Steve has co-written, produced and mixed songs for acts signed to the world’s leading labels, including J Records, Universal, Sony, Atlantic, Warner, Jive, Capitol/EMI, and Avex. 

With albums sales over 17 million world wide, he has had songs that have been recorded by such international artists as: Loverboy (Canada), Stacie Orrico (USA), Rouge (Brasil), Tohoshinki (Japan) and Namie Amuro (Asia) as well as having multiple top 10 hits in Canada. 

Their award winning #1 song “Surrender” by Altantic Recording Artist, Laura Pausini was at the time the most radio played song written by Canadians and performed by a foreign artist and reached U.S. Billboard Number One. They have had their songs featured in films and TV including: YTV – The Next Star, Disney’s – Austin And Ally, and American Idol. SA Trackworks also wrote and produced a single for the mega U.S. group Smash Mouth of “All Star” fame and most recently; Meghan Patrick recorded their co-written song, “Forever Ain’t Enough Time”, with guest vocals by the legend Vince Gill. 

This year, Steve, known as Steve In The Mix on his social networks, has started a YouTube channel to guide up and coming songwriters, singers, rappers, and producers on the come up. We have created our very own Youtube playlist featuring all of Steve’s videos. Go check it out!

 

  • Do you write for other recording/performing artists?

Writing and producing for other recording artist is mostly what I do. You wouldn’t want to hear me sing. I do know what an excellent performance sounds like and I feel like I can recognize when a song is unique and compelling. Working with an artist who is able to make a song come alive is a privilege. 

  • How did you learn your craft – was it “formal” or “informal” music education?

It was a mix of both. I started as a musician, went to college to study music performance and had my eyes opened to the high level of musicianship that makes a world-class performer. My informal training, but perhaps higher level training, happened as I found myself in the room when master producers and songwriters were at work. The recording studio always fascinated me, and I was lucky enough to learn the craft of songwriting from people who were professionals. I learned about the apparent things like structure, chord changes, approach to lyric writing, but the magic happened when great songwriters used the tools to create emotion. I’m still a student of songwriting, producing and mixing. I love that aspect of it. 

  • Do you have any advice for upcoming songwriters and creators who are looking to break further into the creative scene?

Collaboration is key. Learning to collaborate is a skill in itself. It’s a great recipe for staying fresh. So many times a crazy idea is just one adjustment away from being a brilliant idea. Be brave enough to throw all ideas into the room. Sometimes they bounce back in ways that are incredible.

 

#thePROSofSAC #CreatorsCount #MusicCreatorsUnite 

Pro Member Interview – Treasa Levasseur

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Treasa trained in both classical piano and musical theatre before finding her calling as a singer songwriter.  Her songs are witty, heartfelt and often sassy, just like Treasa.  She has released 3 full length albums and 2 EPS, with her rhythm and blues influenced Low Fidelity garnering her a Juno nomination.  She is also a successful community arts facilitator, Canadian Representative for Folk Alliance International, pop up choir leader, and proudly writes songs with kids every week as part of her Jam 101 program for An Instrument For Every Child in Hamilton.  Her favourite side hustle is a tie between playing accordion in Corin Raymond’s band and being a columnist on CBC’s flagship book show, The Next Chapter.

Below is our interview with Treasa, enjoy!

 

  • What inspires you to create music?

The world around me, the connection I can make with other people, and the high of making something from nothing.

  • How did you get your start as a creator in the industry?

I started out as a backing musician, but once I got out on the road I realized I wanted to share my own perspective with audiences.

  • If you could collaborate with any other music creator, who would that be?

I could list so many folks, but a short list of amazing Canadian Women includes Erin Costello, Amelia Curran, Tanika Charles, Rose Cousins, Irish Mythen, Shakura S’Aida, Hill Kourkoutis, Lydia Persaud…

  • What is the most important “tool” you need when creating, eg. GarageBand, google docs, your cell phone, Pro Tools, or a pad of paper?

88 keys and a journal.

 

#thePROSofSAC #CreatorsCount #MusicCreatorsUnite

S.A.C. Black History Songwriters Series: Lillian Allen

LillianAllen

Writer; Poet; Performer; dub poetry embodies these three characteristics, distinguishing it from singers or poets. As a pioneer in the dub poetry world, Lillian Allen has written, recorded and performed for decades. The Juno award winner has published books, advised community advocacy groups and the government alike on various social issues and now teaches at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD University).

“Black History Month reminds me of the soulfulness of my ancestors whose vestiges of heritage and culture we carry with us as a people everywhere we go; what an amazing connection this gives us. We are like our own worldwide web. Black History Month calls on not just Black people but our entire country to reflect on and celebrate the resistance, hopes, sacrifices and achievements of Black people & our culture and our vital contribution to human enterprise, both tangible and intangible. It should also be a reminder that unequal societal conditions, marginalization, lack of opportunities especially among a section of our youth, was not always so and can and must be countered with culture, economic upliftment and participation in society’s processes.”

Lillian Allen grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica and emigrated to Kitchener/Waterloo Canada in 1969 and later moved to New York City to pursue her studies and back to Canada where she settled in Toronto in the mid 1970’s.

Reading and performing her brand of poetry at community events to much accolades, her first of many books, Rhythm an’ Hard Times was published in 1982. Her first recording came out the following year. Active in Toronto’s arts & culture scenes, she collaborated with many musicians and artists.

Allen’s interest in writing and performing dub poetry received a jolt when she encountered the original dub poet Oku Onuora at a 1978 writers’ conference in Cuba. Onuora recorded the first dub poetry album, “Reflections in Red,” in 1979. Music is a fundamental component of dub poetry; the beat, usually reggae, is meant to add momentum to the uttered verses.

Lillian Allen was part of the first wave of dub poets including Mutabaraka and Linton Kwesi Johnson, credited with coining the term in a 1976 article. Johnson later explained he was referring to the rise of “toasting” among Jamaican deejays which developed into chattering or even singing along with extant songs and instrumentals. Dub Poetry is not toasting or “singjaying” though; there is a gravitas to the words which is not a requirement in reggae singing or toasting.

She explains in De Dub Poets her desire “to work within a form whose aim was to increase the dynamism of poetry, to increase it’s impact and immediacy, a poetic form that could incorporate many aspects of other art forms: performance, drama, fiction, theatre” and other elements. Her records “Revolutionary Tea Party” (1986) and “Conditions Critical” (1988) won Juno awards.

Allen co-founded the Dub Poetry Collective in between publishing books and performing live before assuming a new role, as a professor, at OCAD University.

Allen is currently developing a new BFA program in creative writing. The program will include performing, digital art forms and other elements integral to creative expression in 2019.

 

Blog post by Erik Twight

Erik Twight is, at present, a Freelance Writer, maintaining a web presence specializing in current affairs, history, photography and music and producing a weekly podcast/radio show arranged thematically and with commentary for fun. Click here to read more.

 

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Click here to listen to Lillian Allen’s new single on S.A.C.’s Spotify playlist Ep. 5 Black History Songwriters Series

 

Spotify Ep.5 .png

Playlist:

Song: Revolutionary Tea Party

Performed by: Lillian Allen

Written by: Lillian Allen

Source: Discogs

 

Song: Rub A Dub Style Inna Regent Park

Performed by: Lillian Allen

Written by: Lillian Allen

Source: Discogs

 

Song: Conditions Critical

Performed by: Lillian Allen

Written by: Lillian Allen

Source: Discogs

 

Song: I Dream a Redwood

Performed by: Lillian Allen

Written by: Lillian Allen

Source: AllMusic

 

Song: Woken & Unbroken

Performed by: Lillian Allen

Written by: Lillian Allen

Source: Spotify

 

Songwriters Association of Canada posts songwriter related news and events as a resource to members. Publishing these posts does not imply that the S.A.C. endorses the teacher, product, service, or company.