Deborah Cox's rise to the top - The JUNO Awards

An international icon, Deborah Cox has been entertaining and captivating audiences around the world for over 25 years. Her exceptional talent has earned her numerous awards and record-breaking achievements, solidifying her place in the music industry. In 2022, the R&B singer made history as the first Black woman to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

For Cox, this recognition was the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and perseverance. “It’s a full circle moment from doing all the clubs, doing session work, commercial jingles, and singing background vocals for different artists,” Cox shared. “It’s just really gratifying, validating, and it’s so beautiful to be here to celebrate it.”

2022 Canadian Music Hall of Fame Inductee Deborah Cox (Matt Barnes/CARAS).

Growing up in a musical household, Cox expressed an early interest in singing and songwriting. She began performing professionally at the age of 12 and continued to refine her talents throughout her teenage years. Dedicated to proving herself as an entertainer, Cox’s hard work finally paid off when she was hired as a backup vocalist for Céline Dion.

Deborah Cox with Céline Dion.

But despite her obvious talents and passion for music, Canadian record executives passed on the opportunity to sign the aspiring artist. “Coming up in the 90s, I think a lot of us heard the same thing. There wasn’t really a market for R&B music in Canada,” 2002 Best R&B/Soul Recording JUNO winner Glenn Lewis told
CBC Music. “Debbie was the first of us to make it”

Remaining committed to her craft, Cox finally received her big break in 1994 when she was signed to the American record label Arista by music producer Clive Davis. “It wasn’t easy to leave my home but it was necessary. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d be standing here this evening,” Cox said in her emotional Canadian Music Hall of Fame acceptance speech. “Those rejections became my redirection and only added fuel to my fire.”

With the help of Davis, she released her self-titled debut album in 1995. An infectious mix of pop and R&B, Deborah Cox was a critical success yielding the hit single “Where Do We Go from Here.” “[Lascelles Stephens and I] wrote that in our tiny apartment in Scarborough,” reflected Cox. “It was the song that really changed my trajectory.” The certified platinum record earned Cox her first-ever JUNO Award nomination and win for Best R&B/Soul Recording.

Deborah Cox with Music Producer Clive Davis.

However, it was the release of her subsequent album
One Wish that took her career to the next level, turning Deborah Cox into a household name. One Wish featured several hit singles but its most notable track was the irresistible slow jam, “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here.” The soulful ballad became an instant sensation and held the then-record for the longest-running No. 1 R&B single of all time.

Despite its rocky release, Cox was convinced the song would be a hit. “I knew this was going to be the song where I was able to do a lot of vocal tricks that nobody had ever heard Deborah Cox do,” Cox told Billboard. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist that had longevity, so I wanted to make that point and let the world know, ‘I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.’”

Celebrating 14 consecutive weeks at the top of the charts, “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” earned Cox a number of impressive accolades including a Billboard Music Award nomination for R&B Single of the Year, an NAACP Image Award nomination, a Soul Train Award, a Lady of Soul Award, and three JUNO Awards. 

“I knew it was a hit when it was on The Beat, a hip-hop-heavy station in L.A. that never played ballads. I remember we were driving down the 405, and it came blaring on the radio” Cox remembered. “I was like, ‘We made it!’ We’d have conference calls with Arista staff telling us, ‘This song is really doing what no other song has done. People are calling back wanting to hear it over and over again.’”

Since then, Cox has continued to rise to the top of the industry with six critically-acclaimed albums, six Top 20 Billboard Magazine R&B singles, and thirteen No.1 hits on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play Chart. For over three decades she worked to hone her talents and prove her versatility as an artist, branching out into theatre and film.

“I want to be there to inspire,” Cox shared when asked what she wants her legacy to be. “I want to continue to be that inspiration for younger up-and-coming girls just like me, who never really had anyone to look to. I want to be that beacon of hope – that person that reflects determination and passion. I want to reflect somebody that just never gives up.”

Featured photo: Deborah is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at The 2022 JUNO Awards. Photo Credit: Ryan Bolton.