February is Black History Month and there are many events happening across Canada to celebrate. TD bank held a launch event at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto this week featuring Hip Hop Pioneer Maestro Fresh Wes and Actor Tonya Williams with performances by Canada’s R&B Soul Queen Jully Black and Juno Award-winning Reggae artist Exco Levi. In this episode, you will hear inspiring words from Maestro and Tonya about mentorship and their experiences in the entertainment industry.
Mentorship with Hip Hop Pioneer Maestro Fresh Wes & Actor/Producer/Director Tonya Williams
at TD Black History Month Series Launch
Hello and welcome to episode 37 of Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive!
February is Black History Month and there are many events happening across Canada to celebrate. TD bank held a launch event at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto this week.
Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee and pioneering hip-hop legend Maestro Fresh Wes hosted the event. He has recently become the first rap artist to ever have a song inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. His legendary single “Let Your Backbone Slide” was the first rap recording to reach Gold and Platinum Status. As an actor, he is known as Wes Williams and he has appeared in several film and television roles including 8 seasons on CBC’s hit sitcom Mr. D. He is also an author of the 2010 motivational book “Stick To Your Vision” and has presented Ted Talks on Self-Revision.
Now, if you listened to episode 35 of this podcast with Solitair, you may remember my putting it out into the universe that I wanted Maestro on the show. Since for the podcast I prefer long interviews I wasn’t planning on interviewing him or Tonya Williams at the event, but I would take the opportunity to meet with them and get their contact info to invite them on at a future date. At the last minute I thought, why not bring my recorder and do a short interview now as well. I had such a lovely conversation with both of them. I will now play you something Maestro said.
As an artist there have been so many times that I’ve done such a great job you know, working on something, thinking my song is done and I look at the engineer and he says Wes we accidentally erased the chorus, you are going to have to do it over again. And nobody really cares about this. All they really see is the final product. So there’s something to be said about celebrating the work to get to where you’re at.
Diane Foy 2:52
So when I got home, I realized that my interviews did not have any sound to them. I made a mistake. Since I’m still learning how to use the h4 and recorder, I thought that if there were not any microphones attached to it that it would auto record from the built-in mics. Nope. I was supposed to press a different button. Somehow I did press that button to record some of the talks on stage. So I still have amazing words of wisdom from Maestro and Tonya, to share with you. But I was still a bit gutted. I haven’t read Maestro’s book yet but I had it preparing for that future interview I was going to have with him and still am. And so I went straight to the chapter called Falling Down. I needed more motivational words after my screw up. in it. He tells the story of a time he got to open for Big Daddy Kane. And the mics died halfway through the set and he was booed off the stage. He felt defeated. angry, but in the end, shit happens. And the important thing is to keep going no matter what.
I got over this mistake pretty quickly because at this point, life is the roller coaster. One of my favorite sayings lately, I think especially since starting this podcast is the world’s not going to end because of such and such. Sometimes it’s the world’s not going to end If I miss a week of the podcast like I did last week. The world’s not going to end. We all just do the best we can and to look at the positive of any situation. I’m sure Maestro doesn’t sweat it as much when things don’t go as planned these days either.
The thing about not playing it safe and taking risks is that it’s inevitable that you will make mistakes. You’ll get knocked down a lot. The successful ones don’t let that stop them, they get back up and try again. I know I’ll never make that same mistake again with that recorder. But there will be for sure, other things going wrong on this journey. I get back up a lot quicker now.
I’ve been coaching my clients lately on motivation. And in addition to figuring out their why I suggested gathering a list of songs, movies, quotes, books, and other things that motivate you. So they’re waiting there when you need that inspiration. One of my favorite motivational songs is “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera. And I recently heard Maestro’s “Underestimated” and I’ll be adding that to my list. I think I’ll make a Spotify playlist of “Don’t mess with me” songs. What are some of your favorite motivational songs or movies? Let me know on socials. I’m at Diane Foy pr.
Here’s a bit of Maestro and Tonya Williams from the Black History Month event. And I’ll let Maestro introduce the fabulous Tonya Williams.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a TV series called Mr. D. for eight seasons man played a vice principal. We shot that in Halifax and we had a great time I had a chance to go home, you know, see my Scotian squad. The beauty of, you know, working as an artist is the people you meet along the way. Right? So what we’re going to talk about in a minute, is the process of the community the process of mentorship, which is very important, man because coming up, I didn’t have too many people older than me show me what it was to be a rap artist making records. So I learned from people younger than me I had to humble myself and asked man’s like, Ghetto Concept you know, or Saukrates, Kardinal, what have you, Rich Kidd. And I’ve learned to be humble and study from, you know people younger than me and the beauty that is, they might have grown up watching me, but we’re watching each other we’re growing together making our history. All right. So that’s what it’s all about right now. A friend of mine, man, I’m gonna be talking about mentors, right? I’m gonna bring on one of my mentors Tonya Williams. Yes, yes.
Okay. So when I first made the transition from artist from a hip hop artist into film and TV, you know, one thing I learned about being an MC, you know, we got transferable skills in hip hop. So one is the points of repetition, and of course the preparation. So if it’s my script, if it’s my rhymes, I’m ready from this practice of repetition. Preparation if anybody wants to battle me no matter where they’re from Scarborough regent, it doesn’t matter, I’m ready, right? That’s the preparation but when it came to film and TV, I brought that with me. But it’s also a different thing altogether now because now you got to tweak these things as you go along and I was humble enough to chop it up with Tonya. I remember a time when I came to your house, right? I said I want to be an actor like you right? And you sat me down and you showed me the ropes right? And that meant a lot to me because when I met rest in peace Al Waxman, who remembers The King of Kensington. I remember Al Waxman was getting an award, this was before I started acting, but I was thinking about it. I said Mr. Waxman. I want to be an actor. He just looked at me and gave me a (pat) on the side of my face. So I don’t know if that was like “you poor thing son…” But I never forgot that so when people come up to me, “Pardon me, Maestro I wanna be a rapper” But you never gave me that pat on the cheek, you sat me down we had a nice lunch and you told me what to do what not to do. You showed me things and I thank you for being a mentor to me. ladies gentlemen, Tonya Williams.
Tonya Williams 9:19
You know what, it’s easy to sit down with someone when you can see that the talent is there. And there’s so much talent A lot of it in here on the stage and in this room, so it’s always my pleasure to sit down and Maestro was just, he was phenomenal, you know, a serious person, a person who just wants to know what are the steps I take, not looking for the easy road to get there. But what are the steps I can take to move my career ahead?
In 1979, Tonya was one of the first black actresses to break into mainstream Canadian television. She’s best known for a 20-year starring role as Dr. Olivia Barbara Winters on the popular daytime drama, The Young and the Restless, which currently airs in over 60 countries and international awards including two NAACP Image Awards, and an ACTRA Award of Excellence. Tonya Williams has been the founder and executive director of The ReelWorld Film Festival and reelworld screen Institute since 2001. Through reelworld, Tonya has focused the last 20 years on elevating BIPOC, screen-based Canadian talent through advocating for policy change, offered professional development opportunities, opening doors and getting the BIPOC talent the opportunity to work in the industry. Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause to my mentor Tonya Williams.
Tonya Williams 11:11
This feels really nice, you know, I don’t feel like I’m at this huge sort of event thing. I really feel like I’m like you guys if we if I lived in a Tyler Perry house you guys just coming over for Saturday or something. It’s really great to be here and I thank you so much, Jully black. I that was just phenomenal. I can’t wait to see that musical. And Maestro, you know, it’s funny. I’m older than any of the other people up here. So I’ve watched their careers. I’m 61. Everybody in this room watched polka dot door and you were all five so do the math.
I just love the industry you know, I love the entertainment industry. But I was not one of those people. I love those stories where people say, you know, I wanted to be an actor ever since I could speak, or walk or talk. But I was not one of those people. I started as in classical music, I started playing piano, mainly because that’s what my parents started me doing when I was five years old. And if you ask me, even by the age of 14, or 15, if if I was going to have a career in the arts, I would have said, I’m probably going to be in classical I said to my mother, just the other day I had to live my life over I probably my dream would have been to be in a symphony, playing on in, in an orchestra that would have been something I would have loved to have done. I played by the time I left high school, and not only played piano, but I played tenor, tenor saxophone, violin, oboe flute. I loved classical music, and I still do to this day, but it was something Maestro said earlier that made me think of that which is These are the fundamentals of the discipline that you need in any career you do. So when I started working in the entertainment industry, which was really quite a fluke, when I was 16. I applied all of that to the work, it never seemed like it. Actually, I’ve never found the entertainment industry fun. Not fun. In fact, the thing I hated about school was homework, and I feel like I’ve dedicated my life to homework is what it feels like because there’s always a script and there are lines and there’s the research of the character. It is constant homework.
And that’s what I like to get across to any of the young people that I’m talking to is that in anything you do, whether it’s the entertainment industry, or whether you want to be Prime Minister of Canada, is that it’s tiny, small, incremental, hard, working, focused, dedicated steps to getting wherever it is you want to go. And it doesn’t matter what industry that is, you know, we’re talking about Black History Month and Yes, a part of that is looking back at where we’ve come from, which is really far. But a part of it is also recognizing that what we’re all of us in this room, what we’re doing today is going to be the history of 50 years from now, we are actually creating the history as it is right now. And that excites me. I’ve always thought about that. Even as a young kid, every choice I’ve made, every job I’ve taken, every decision I’ve made is going to be reflected in the future back as to what did we all do? How did we move our people forward? What were the values that we had that we shared, they’re going to look back on that you see all the statues getting toppled? Now, you got to be living a good life because your statue can be toppled 50 years from now. So make sure that no matter what industry you’re in, whether you want it or not, you are a representation of All the black people on the planet. You never signed up for that none of us did. But I know growing up, I was almost always the only black person in the room. And I recognize that what I said and did, every other eye in the room was going to cast on every other black person that they ever met after that point. So I took that it can be a heavy burden, but it can also be a really positive thing. You have an opportunity to change people’s opinions about who black people are, how they think what they do, and that they’re not one monolithic group of people that move in one monolithic way that we’re very, that we’re different. We think differently, that we have different desires and you know, different wants and that. That’s about I think that’s the future to me when I think about black history right now. And I think about the future is that we have to change the minds of the world and understanding that all black people are not one people and I love being a part of that history.
That’s why Maestro said, you know when I met him and I and I spoke with him, I do that with everybody. In fact, I was just at the Crystal awards this year. And when I’m in a room, the first thing I do is I pick out all the black people and I just go over to introduce myself, it freaks them out. But I always do that I’ve done that since the very beginning because I never used to see any black people. So if I go into a room and I saw one, how could you not walk across the room and say, Hi, black person. When I went to high school, I was usually the only black kid in all of my schools that I ever went to. And I went to schools in England where I was born and in Jamaica and Canada. But when I hit high school, there was one other black guy Andy Cole and I’m sure he was a great guy, but we couldn’t be more mismatched and everyone in the school just decided that we should probably date because we were two black people. Even though he was like, you know, like A crazy party guy who likes smoke pot and drank all the time and I was in the band and did classical music I’ve no idea why they thought you know, we’d be good match other than the fact that we were black. But I met Andy Cole recently it was great seeing him married and with his kids, and we talked about how Yeah, we were supposed to end up together.
I got an opportunity to start Reel World because I was distressed at what I was seeing in Canada. I had started my career here in the late 70s. And I moved to the US because there was such little opportunity. And the reason I know there was such little opportunity was that I remember going to a casting and a girl there said Oh, Tonya is here she books everything. Now that would have sounded good if I had was even making a living but I wasn’t even making a living. And at that moment, she doesn’t even know it but that girl was the person who made me think if I’m booking everything, and I can’t survive on this money, then it’s time for me to make that move. And that’s when I moved to the US. But then after being in the US and finding success there and being there for 20 years, I would come back to Canada and speak at different things. And all the people I met not just black people, but all people of color, all they ever wanted to talk to me about was how they could get to the US.
And that was distressing for me, like why did they all have to leave this country, this amazing country, to go to another country to find the success that they should rightfully have here and reel world is really born out of that sort of anger and determination that I had, or that people can leave the country if they want to, but they shouldn’t have to. There should be enough and we do we have enough talent here but there should be an opportunity and Nakki said something wonderful people like TD and other organizations they put money behind that because you can’t move things forward without that money. But all of you are in this room, I think most of you are in the industry. And so I’m just going to say that I believe everyone I talked to in the entertainment industry. So let’s start with that. What’s important is the entertainment industry is not an industry that is separate from every other industry.
I think it was Maestro that talked about that black Mayor. The reason we don’t know about that black Mayor is someone hasn’t made a movie about it. The screen. That’s the power. It’s been the power since it was invented at the turn of the last century. I know that I’m old enough, I could say the turn of the last century. But this is what we have to remember the power is in who is telling the story. You know, people white people did not discover the Caribbean islands, there were people there. They didn’t discover America. There were people there already. They weren’t the first to get to the North Pole. Other people went to the North Pole. They were living at the North Pole. They weren’t the first to go up Mount Everest. The Sherpas who helped them get there were the first to get to Mount Everest. But there are no stories. You have no narrative talking about this. And this is where it becomes so important. So people need to encourage their young people, whether they become lawyers, doctors, whatever they become write, write your stories or tell your biographies and, and also make sure that someone out there filmmakers, people in the industry, are making those stories available to everyone so that we can continue to celebrate not only what we’ve done in the past, but what we’re doing right now. I want to thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to come here today to see you all to talk a little bit. And I’m excited about this event and the years to come. That’ll happen. Thank you.
Diane Foy 20:57
In addition to the talks, there was a couple of amazing performances from Juno Award-winning reggae artist Exco Levi, I hope I pronounced that right. And another Juno Award winner Jully Black, you can view the video of these performances. At sing dance act thrive.com slash 037. Exco is set to perform at the fifth annual tribute to Legends of Reggae tour, this February 8 and 9th in Brampton and Montreal. Jully Black Queen of r&b soul is making her musical theatre debut in the lead role as Caroline at this year’s run of Caroline, or Change. The 16 performances run from January 30 to February 15 at the Winter Garden Theatre. I’m so excited. I am going to see the show on Tuesday next week. So be sure to check it out performance Jully played at the event was insane.
I hope it inspires you to expand your network and go back and listen to the episodes of this podcast that you might have skipped because the guest was a dancer and you are an actor, or the guest was an actor and you are a musician. I am not any of those things and I am inspired by all of you performing artists. That is why I coach and do PR.
I help musicians, actors, and dancers present their authentic selves to the world and increase their influence in order to attract a loyal audience without feeling overwhelmed or doubting themselves. If you want to generate bigger opportunities, I can guide you in communicating your skills, values, and personality to propel you to the next level. For more info visit dianefoy.com
Another cool thing that happened this week is I was interviewed on Rainbow Country on CIUT radio by the fabulous Mark Tara. And so yeah, if you would like to hear a half-hour interview with me about PR and coaching and the podcast and lots more good advice on there. I’ll include the link in the show notes to this episode. But you can also just check out ci UT and listen to it there or you can find the link on my socials at Diane Foy p are for a transcript, and to watch the fantastic performances by Jully black and Exco Levi, visit sing dance act thrive.com slash 037. And be sure to join the Facebook group for performing artists at Diane Foy comm slash Facebook or look up, sing dance act thrive.