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So white, so male: the problems facing the Canadian Music Hall of Fame

Since its inception in 1978, there have been 9 solo women inducted — and only 2 non-white solo inductees.

Since its inception in 1978, there have been 9 solo women inducted — and only 2 non-white solo inductees

As of 2020, 15.8 per cent of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees are women, while 80.7 per cent are men. (Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images))

The 2020 Junos have been cancelled since this article was first published.

Jann Arden's forthcoming induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame means two things: that the award-winning singer-songwriter from Calgary will be recognized for her influence on the Canadian music scene, and that she will become only the ninth solo woman to be so recognized — out of 57 total inductees over a period of 42 years.

The numbers for non-white inductees are even more dismal. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame has inducted only two people of colour: Buffy Sainte-Marie, and one of its first inductees, Oscar Peterson. (That number jumps to three if you count Robbie Robertson, who was inducted as part of the Band in 1989.)

This isn't a problem unique to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, of course. Only a day after the announcement of Arden's induction, NPR music critic Ann Powers published a piece titled "41 Women Who Should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame." The lack of gender parity in the music industry at large is no secret. Powers decried that Whitney Houston was the only woman inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year — among five other men or groups of men, including Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers and the Notorious B.I.G — and pointed to her colleague Evelyn McDonnell's work that revealed only eight per cent of that Hall of Fame's inductees have been women. The numbers for non-white inductees are higher: 36 per cent of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inductees have been people of colour, with an additional three per cent of bands with at least one person of colour.

The Canadian Music Hall of Fame is doing a bit better with gender parity versus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the numbers still aren't good: 15.8 per cent of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees are women, while 80.7 per cent are men (the remaining 3.5 per cent is accounted for by two mixed-gender groups, Cowboy Junkies and Ian & Sylvia). 

"I know we would all like to think that a boys' club does not exist in our industry, but just look around you," Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins said at the band's induction in October 2019, with bandmates Alan Anton and Michael and Peter Timmins (also her brothers) standing behind her onstage. "Even tonight, there are 10 inductees, and one woman [laughs]. And with my count, after tonight, there will be around 100 men and 10 women in the Hall of Fame. That's not right."

Starting in 2019, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame officially began inducting more than one artist a year, and its inaugural slate of multiple inductees included Andy Kim, Corey Hart, Chilliwack, Bobby Curtola and Cowboy Junkies. Timmins was the only woman among them.

Cowboy Junkies give their acceptance speech and take a moment to call out sexism in the music industry at the Canadian Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Calgary, Alberta. 6:14

When asked for an interview about both the state of gender parity and lack of nominees of colour in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) declined, but sent the following statement:

"CARAS and our processes focus on honouring individuals or groups who have made an outstanding contribution toward the greater international recognition of Canadian artists and music. We are a reflection of the successes in the Canadian music industry and look forward to honouring all deserving artists in years to come. We have inducted many meriting women, such as Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, Maureen Forrester, Buffy Sainte-Marie, k.d. lang, Shania Twain, most recently Jann Arden, and more, and will continue to do so in the coming years.

"There are many Canadian artists that deserve to be celebrated and inducted [into] the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. By expanding the number of inductees, which began last year, we're now able to honour even more iconic Canadian artists each year."

The lack of gender parity and nominees of colour extends further, to the Juno Awards themselves, though those numbers are higher than its Hall of Fame counterpart: women make up 30 per cent of all nominees in 2020, with 16 per cent accounted for by groups of mixed gender. The numbers for people of colour are lower: 19 per cent of 2020 nominees are made up of groups or solo musicians who are people of colour, while 10 per cent of nominees have at least one member who is a person of colour.

There's no shortage of possibilities for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame's nominations. Names like Céline Dion, Salome Bey, Michie Mee, Mitsou, Rita MacNeil, Angela Hewitt and Portia White come to mind. Eligibility is quite broad: "artists that have attained commercial success while having an artistic impact on the Canadian music scene here at home and/or around the world," according to the Hall of Fame's site. The artists must also have had a career that spans 20 years from their first recording. 

So why, in 2020, is the Canadian Music Hall of Fame only inducting the ninth woman? 

As Cowboy Junkies' Timmins said in her speech last fall: "All I ask is that you people who are here, who are so powerful, you lead our industry, to think about it. And that somehow we have to bring in more women. Allow our daughters to know that if they want to be riggers, sound engineers, lighting techs, they can do it and they can join us on the road."

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