Influential Black Women in Music: An ADVANCE x JUNO Talks discussion - The JUNO Awards

From legendary rap artist Michie Mee to Black music trailblazer Denise Jones, Black women have been shaping the music industry from both behind the scenes and on the center stage for decades. In a panel hosted by the JUNOS in partnership with ADVANCE, Canada’s Black Music Business Collective, JUNO-winning artists and industry professionals discussed the influence of Black women on their careers and the importance of representation in the industry.

When asked about the significance of having a panel dedicated to Black Women in music, music journalist and culture critic A.Harmony explained, “It is important to have these conversations all the time, but especially now. Black music is some of Canada’s biggest exports in terms of what we share with the world… Now is as good as time as any to talk about influential Black women in music specifically.”

Reflecting on her personal influences A.Harmony shared, “I started in hip-hop as a rapper and I remember being in Pampers watching Michie Mee on TV and finally seeing my full self, a Black woman who is Canadian who was into hip-hop. It was the first time I saw myself represented on screen and it certainly inspired everything I did afterward.” 

Michie Mee introduces the 30th Anniversary Tribute to Rap at the 2021 JUNO Awards featuring Michie Mee (Pictured), Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black, NAV and Haviah Mighty. Photo by: CARAS/iPhoto

Two-time Traditional R&B/Soul Recording of the Year JUNO winner Savannah Ré named Jully Black, Deborah Cox, and Melanie Fiona not only as her biggest influences but also as some of her greatest champions and mentors. “All the Black women who came before me who have actually been a huge part in making me welcome and [showing me] the next steps…We have so much talent here,” she shared.

Representation for Black Women is crucial, not only in media and performance but within the music industry as a whole, where the representation of Black women in positions of power is woefully insufficient. More Black women are needed as directors, board members, label presidents, and much more.

“It’s important for [women] to be able to see themselves reflected in these positions because one of the issues we have with people coming into [the music] business, and why we don’t have enough people in higher management, is that some women don’t think that it’s an option for them,” Managing Director of Warner Chappell Music Canada, Vivian Barclay expressed.“Being able to come hear about our stories and journeys might have some young women go ‘you know what? I have a similar trajectory, I’m on the same path, I can be in this same place.’”

Barclay, speaking from her own personal experience, cited Denise Jones as a woman who has had a significant impact on her career. Denise Jones spent a lifetime championing Afro-Caribbean culture in Canada and around the world through her company Jones & Jones Productions. She also established the internationally renowned JAMBANA One World Festival and was the founding Chair of the Reggae Category for the JUNO Awards. Jones was posthumously honoured with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at The 2022 JUNO Opening Night Awards. 

“It was nice to be able to have representation of a woman from my country that I grew up in, who came to Canada, who was inspiring, made a life, had a business, and was in the Board room, and showed me that was possible,” said Barclay. “Because she did that, I’m here.”

Feature photo: Panelists Sharon Riley, Carla Beauvais and Vivian Barclay. ADVANCE x JUNO Talks: Influential Black Women In Music. Artscape Daniels Launchpad, Toronto, On. May 12, 2022. Photo: CARAS/Magda Knyszynski