The 2023 Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place on Thursday at Studio Bell in Calgary, highlighting four starkly different musical acts with storied Canadian careers during the event.
CBC Music host and mezzo-soprano Julia Nesrallah was the MC of the ceremony, the second of its kind. She introduced the evening’s inductees: Jazz pianist Oliver Jones, Quebecois songstress Diane Dufresne, country star Terri Clark and rock band Trooper.
Following a traditional performance by Blackfoot elder and knowledge keeper Eldon Weasel Child, Jones was the first to be honoured.
His longtime collaborator, Montreal-based American jazz singer Renee Lee, paid him tribute — noting his humanitarianism, devotion to family and willingness to mentor young musicians — as she inducted him into the hall.
“Anyone who has had the privilege to perform alongside Oliver is compelled to rise to their highest potential,” she said.
Jones recalls legendary career
Jones was born in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood and had his first performance at the nearby Union United Church. Though he dedicated much of his early life to jazz — by the age of nine, he was performing around the city — it was only at 49 years old that Jones embarked on the legendary career he’s now known for.
“This is such a wonderful, tremendous honour, and I am humbled to receive this award,” Jones said, taking the stage.
“My first concert performance was exactly 84 years ago,” the 88-year-old said to applause. “And I never imagined that it would lead to the amazing career that I’ve had.”
He told the crowd that he’d promised the Union United Church, where that first performance was, that if he lives to 100 he’ll come out of retirement again. Jones retired in 2000, only to take up live performance again after a show with his childhood friend, Montreal jazz legend Oscar Peterson.
He spoke about the late Daisy Peterson — Oscar’s sister — who taught him piano and “encouraged me to excel.”
After Jones’s speech, Lee and Hungarian Canadian pianist Robi Botos performed.
Dufresne inducted, Lightfoot remembered
Quebecois writer-performer and former Radio-Canada broadcaster Josée Thibeault then took the stage to introduce the next inductee, Dufresne, the Quebec rocker who she described as a “chanteuse, painter, writer, trailblazer.”
Dufresne, with her wild costumes and distinct vocal style, became one of the province’s defining rock voices in the 70s and 80s. Her success quickly spread to France.
Dufresne, delivering her speech entirely in French, said she was proud to be inducted as a French-speaking Quebecoise.
“Thank you to the public for being part of my life,” she said.
She then took to the stage to perform her song Partager les anges.
Following Dufresne’s performance, Nesrallah paid tribute to late Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, who died on May 1. Lightfoot’s songs carved themselves “into the national consciousness,” she said.
“It’s so important that we acknowledge and appreciate the artists out there writing this country’s story through song.”
Touching speech by Terri Clark
Jann Arden introduced her friend of 25 years, country star Terri Clark — an international success who left Medicine Hat, Alta., to pursue her country music dreams.
“She could entertain people hour after hour after hour,” Arden said of Hart’s early days in Nashville, where she moved to launch her career.
Clark took the stage and gave the evening’s most touching speech, recalling a road trip she’d taken with her late mother as a teen for a Calgary music competition that she’d lost — only to find out 10 years later that she’d won but been disqualified from the competition, which was sponsored by Budweiser, for being underage.
“It really isn’t about me. This is about the human spirit and the dream, the perseverance, and using those roadblocks as building blocks and not letting them stop you.” Clark then performed her 2000 song No Fear.
Trooper performs Raise A Little Hell
Comedian Rick Mercer then stepped up to the podium to introduce Vancouver rock band Trooper, who he called the greatest Canadian band: “a seminal part of the nation’s soundtrack.”
“Given the chance to do Trooper all over again, I would choose to do Trooper all over again with you, my friend,” founding member Ra McGuire said to his co-founder, Brian Smith. Both were on stage to accept the award.
Among other associates of the band, McGuire thanked its main members Scott Brown, Clayton Hill, Paul Gogo, Steve Crane and David Steele, who joined the band after McGuire and Smith retired.
Smith, taking the podium, addressed the band’s fans: “We really are so fortunate to have the best fans in the world. Our fans are the ones who keep our songs alive and relevant.”
Their song Raise a Little Hell became a signature anthem at raucous, roof-raising performances across this country, where they toured every nook and cranny. They performed it after their induction to a standing ovation.
As the evening drew to a close, Nesrallah invited the inductees to place their plaques on the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.