Molly Johnson honoured for Governor General’s award

When jazz singer and philanthropist Molly Johnson learned that she had been awarded Canada’s highest honor for performing arts, two extreme emotions arose.

On the one hand, she says she was “disgusted” and “shocked” to be among those who received the Governor’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement.

Fellow honorees named Thursday morning include singer kd Lang, soprano Rosemary Landry, playwright Michel Marc Bouchard and choreographer James Kudelka.

Johnson, on the other hand, said she was “a little irritated” and it took “a good month” to accept the honor.

“I said, ‘Credits? Credits of what?’ We’re technically still in the same place we were in the 1980s with a punk band called Alta Moda,” Johnson said in Toronto before the announcement. That’s what I said when I arrived at her house in the suburbs.

“I am a Canadian musician who has survived in the music business for over 40 years.Before that, I was a theater boy in Maavish. I can’t. It hurts me financially.”

Johnson says she’s come to accept the accolades, but adds that her career isn’t over yet.

Now 62, the 62-year-old noted upcoming performances in Paris this March and ongoing community initiatives, including the beloved artist’s Kensington Market Jazz Festival in downtown Toronto and an online black history project. doing.

She also continues to collect donations for the Kumbaya Foundation, which closed in 1995, but checks are still being mailed for forwarding to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Johnson co-founded it in her 1992 to raise funds and awareness for people living with HIV/AIDS and only packaged it when she became pregnant. In that short time, she says it has raised her over $4 million.

On March 8, she will receive another honor when the French government awards her a knighthood of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Tudor Alexis, French Consul General in Toronto, said in an emailed statement that Johnson is a popular figure among French jazz lovers.

“Her concerts in Paris are usually sold out and French jazz radio stations play her songs regularly. It would be appropriate to reward her.”

Recently, Johnson noted that performing arts awards come when she feels “at the top of my game” and “I’m at my best in decades,” and is looking forward to it.

“It opened up all sorts of ideas about ‘life achievement,'” adds Johnson.

“What will happen to the rest of this life? What do I want to do? It definitely asked me that question.”

Other awards announced Thursday include the National Arts Center Award for Outstanding Achievement Over the Past Year. Awarded to actor Paul Seung-hyun Yi of the theater and TV version of “Kim’s Convenience”. Art presented to Indigenous entrepreneur and fundraiser John Kim Bell.

Born in the Kanawake Mohawk Reserve near Montreal to a Mohawk father and an American mother, Bell met obstacles in founding the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and its allies, now known as Inspire. Recalling the award, he said he was “extremely honored and humbled”. The awards show marks her 30th anniversary on May 11th in Edmonton.

Bell began his career as a conductor of Broadway musicals in New York and became an apprentice conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1980, becoming the first Indigenous heritage conductor to conduct a major orchestra, according to his award-winning performance. One biography says:

Currently a business advisor and lead negotiator for Michi-Pikoten First Nation’s mining and energy activities, Mr. Bell says that throughout his diverse career, he refuses to accept “no” as an answer. I say it was to do.

“People don’t think we’re capable or capable. They somehow look at us and think we’re inferior and incapable,” Bell said of Indigenous peoples. I’m talking

“But I always believed it was possible, and I was willing to work incredibly hard, and personally donate money to come up with these things.” By borrowing, I was willing to take risks.”

In 1984, he founded the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, now known as Indspire, which “raised approximately $80 million and sent tens of thousands of Indigenous students to universities in Canada, the United States and Europe.” says the biography.

In 1988, he produced, directed, co-wrote and conducted the indigenous ballet In the Land of Spirits, which premiered at the National Center for the Arts and continued to tour nationally.

All faced hurdles, he says.

‘(I was told) ‘It is impossible” ‘There are no natives in the ballet’ ‘Who are you? ‘You’re not a producer, you’re not an impresario, you’ve never raised money in your life,’ Bell recalls.

“I was really patient and determined. I worked seven days a week, I worked nights, I borrowed money. I was angry with the dolphins, and I wanted to fight back.”

A celebration is planned for the winners on May 27 at the National Arts Center in Ottawa.

Husband and wife movie stars Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively are honorary chairs of the gala’s National Volunteer Committee, which raises funds for the bash.

Vancouver-born Reynolds has won the 2021 National Center for the Arts Award.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on February 23, 2023.

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