In conversation with award-winning singer Jully Black





Singer Jully Black

Singer Jully Black                                                                                   Photo credit Ivan Otis


by Laura Bickle

Canada’s Queen of R&B shares how one teacher’s sound advice on hard work helped launch her soulful career.

Describe yourself in elementary school.

Enthusiastic. Jovial. Leader.

Describe yourself in high school.

Confident. Driven. Cheerleader — not the kind with pompoms.

What was your favourite subject?

Law. I lived in an area that many considered at risk, where people didn’t know their rights. I became interested in rights and responsibilities — the Criminal Code was like a romance novel to me.

What was your favourite course?

I took an African studies course at Oakwood. We didn’t get much black history otherwise; this was a full semester, not just one project on Dr. King. It was revelatory — I recognized I was standing on the shoulders of someone else.

Your most challenging?

French and math. I still have nightmares that I didn’t graduate because of French.

Favourite literary or theatrical pieces studied?

The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Lord of the Flies and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

What are you currently reading?

Can You Stand to be Blessed? by T. D. Jakes.

Who are your cultural heroes?

Oprah. I met her but I’d love to sit and talk with her. And, Michael Jackson — he was music and music was him.

As a student, what career path did you dream of following?

An RCMP officer, but I decided to be a rock star instead!

What do you wish you had been taught in school but weren’t?

Financial literacy and life skills — including saving, investing and credit ratings.

Lesson learned in kindergarten that still applies today?

Sleep is necessary.

Favourite way to spend recess?

Assembling an R&B group and performing.

Fondest school-related memory?

It was a middle school music recital. My sister had just passed and left two kids behind. They lived with us. My one-year-old niece Chantelle was clingy and insisted on being with me, so I brought her onstage, held her on my hip and performed “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey.

If you could pick any time to attend school in, which would you choose?

My era — the nineties were great. The pressure on kids now is unreal.

Best advice given at school?

When I transferred to Oakwood in Grade 12, my music teacher, Mr. Greaves, sat me down and said that while I had raw talent, that I still had to buckle down, study music and sing outside of R&B. It changed my life. My diction and annunciation improved and all of my marks went up.


About Jully Black 

• Born in Toronto, in 1977, to Jamaican immigrant parents; youngest of nine children, with a twin brother who lived for a day

• Attended Topcliff PS, Elia Middle School, C.W. Jefferys CI & Oakwood CI, all in Toronto

• Featured on “What It Takes,” a Choclair song that won a 1997 Juno Award for Best Rap Recording

• Diploma in Law Enforcement from Seneca College in Toronto in 1998

• Signed to Warner/Chappell Music Canada in 1998

• Won Best Soul/R&B Video at the 2000 MuchMusic Video Awards

• “Sweat of Your Brow” single won Dance/Electronic Recording of the Year at the 2005 Canadian Urban Music Awards

• Has written songs for Destiny’s Child, Sean Paul, Missy Elliott, Nas and others

• Starred in the 2005 theatrical production of ’da Kink in my Hair in Toronto

• Correspondent on eTalk from 2005–11; Canadian Idol mentor in 2008

• “Seven Day Fool” single became her first Canadian Top 10 hit in 2007; Revival, won the R&B/Soul Recording of the Year at the 2008 Juno Awards

• Vocal supporter of music programs in schools; participated in the MusiCounts education program

• Advocate for LGBTQ communities; hosted multiple WE Day events; co-founded a women’s summit entitled “Empowered In My Skin” in 2016

• Named one of “The 25 Greatest Canadian singers ever” by CBC Music 2013


Source: Ontario College of Teachers “Professionally Speaking”, December 2017  edition

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