Canadas Talent


January 16, 2012

A Brief Walk Through Canada’s Musical History


Although Canadian music has been heavily influenced by American culture, Canada’s musical heritage is as wide-ranging and diverse as the country itself. From the earliest known Aboriginal communities with their chanting and own distinct musical instruments and traditions, to British and French influences from first settlers dating as far back as the early 1600s; from church and chamber halls to performing arts centers, this vast country has produced and exported some of the world’s most successful musical talent, including Paul AnkaNeil YoungCeline Dion, NicklebackAlanis Morrisette and Justin Bieber.

Canada’s first radio stations emerged during the 1920s, enabling Canadian songwriters to put forth some of the most well-known popular music of the early 20th century. By 1923, there were 34 radio stations in Canada. After the Great Depression, Canadian music was stronger than ever and nearly equal to American popular, or “pop,” music, enjoying success at home and abroad.

And as radio grew more popular, so did the jazz genre, which became symbolic of all things modern, sophisticated and decadent. From this era emerged Montreal’s jazz virtuoso Oscar Peterson, widely considered one of the greatest pianists in history. And Contralto singer Portia White, a Canadian woman of African descent, has been declared “A person of national historic significance” by the Canadian government.

Paul Anka, Canada’s first rock n’ roll teen idol, hit it big in 1958. He soon left for New York City where he auditioned for ABC, performing his signature song, Diana, making him an instant international star, hitting No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts.

From the 1960s to the 1990s most Canadian artists had to pursue enduring careers in the United States. Two of the most influential singer-songwriters from that period are Winnipeg’s Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.

The Canadian government eventually passed content legislation to support Canadian artists. Beginning in January 1971, AM radio stations were required to devote 30 per cent of their musical selections to Canadian content. It was a controversial move, but one that helped highlight Canada’s music culture and establish a “pop star” industry of its own. And in the 1980s and 1990s, the exploding youth culture helped change the face of Canada’s music industry.

New influences and innovations such as Canadian hip hop came to the foreground as music videos emerged as a crucial marketing tool for Canadian musicians, with the introduction of MuchMusic in 1984 and its French sister, MusiquePlus, in 1986.

At the end of the 20th century, Canadian women also enjoyed greater international commercial success than ever before, most notably, French-Canadian singer Celine Dion, who became Canada’s best-selling music artist, and in 2004, received an award for surpassing 175 million in worldwide album sales.

By the end of the 20th century, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CTRC) required radio stations were to play 35 per cent Canadian content. Soon, Canadian pop musicians began to dominate the airwaves in a way they never had before.

The recent digital revolution at the turn of the millennium also brought a huge boost for Canadian music. The emergence of the Internet has provided musicians a new medium to distribute their work. YouTube paved the way for the emergence of brand new successful Canadian artists such as pop star Justin Bieber, who was discovered through a series of music videos posted by his mother.

However, Canada’s mainstream music industry has suffered as a result of online music sharing and the boom of independent music, with sales steeply declining. It is estimated that the drop in annual sales between 1999 – the year that Napster’s unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing service launched-and the end of 2004 was $465 million. In 2010, Canada introduced new copyright legislation which makes hacking digital locks illegal, but makes it legal for consumers to record and copy music from a CD to portable devices.

Meanwhile, Canadian-born and internationally-renowned superstars such as Justin BieberDrake and esteemed music groups such as Arcade Fire continue to dominate the global music industry, drawing attention to Canada as a cultural birthplace of musical talent from all genres.

Canada’s music industry is feted annually with the Juno Awards, presented by The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

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