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 being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame decades after the industry closed its doors to her. Here’s how she feels about it.
On Sunday, May 15, Deborah Cox will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Famemaking her the first Black woman to receive the honor in its 44-year history.
Cox began performing in and around Toronto at the age of 12 before becoming a professional backup vocalist for Céline Dion. Today, she’s an award-winning multi-platinum recording artist and actor, but coming up in the ’90s, she was turned down by every major Canadian label.
“There was no support for Black music [in Canada],” Cox told Q‘s Tom Power in an interview. “And sadly, that’s what it was. So we took our talents, you know, stateside.… We didn’t take no for an answer. We just knew that we had something to offer.”
In 1994, Cox and her road manager (and later, husband), Lascelles Stephens, relocated to Los Angeles to shop a record deal. Cox said the decision to leave her friends and family behind was a difficult one, but at home, there was no infrastructure in place for her music by her.
Her life changed when Clive Davis, the American music mogul behind the likes of 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 string of hits like Where Do We Go from Here, Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here and Beautiful URCox helped pioneer the Canadian R&B scene that’s now responsible for some of the biggest music in the world.
Despite the early rejection she faced in Canada, Cox said she “always had a very positive perspective” that helped her persist against all odds. But when she got the news that she would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, she was shocked.
“I just never thought that was within my reach,” she said. “Like, I just never thought about the impact that I was actually making, you know, with all the hard work and everything that I’ve been doing.”
When Power asked Cox how she feels about receiving the national honor knowing that the Canadian industry rejected her when she was first starting out, she said she’s grateful that her journey is now being recognized.
“The resounding message is that you have to believe in yourself. Otherwise, no one else will believe in you — and it’s that simple,” she said.
“I knew that I had something to offer and it was just a matter of time before somebody was going to recognize it. And it’s beautiful that [the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences] you have recognized that.… And I’m still here, which is awesome.”
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced 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 globally at CBCMusic.ca/ together.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.