Montreal·Q & A

Black History Month laureates: Skipper Dean

Soul singer Skipper Dean says Montreal has a thriving black community with plenty of strong role models. However, he says there's still work to be done to ensure the city welcomes everybody.

'We were instilled with the belief we could accomplish anything we set out to do'

A consummate performer with a deep repertoire, Dean says he drew inspiration from black artists in Montreal and abroad. (Submitted by Skipper Dean)

Soul singer Skipper Dean says Montreal has a thriving black community with plenty of strong role models. However, he points out, there's still work to be done to ensure the city welcomes everybody.

Throughout February, Homerun will bring you feature interviews with some of the 2015 Montreal Black History Month laureates — members of the black community who have had a major impact on Quebec society through their achievements.

The organization that runs Black History Month events in Montreal notes that long-time performer Dean's "showmanship and his rapport with his audience really set him apart from his contemporaries."

We've asked the laureates to answer the same five questions about their experience growing up, living and working in Montreal.


Who has inspired or influenced you the most?

Locally: Oliver Jones, Don Jordan and Trevor Payne. Internationally: Sam Cooke, Brook Benton, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Jackson, Jerry Butler, Etta James, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald – to name a few. These wonderful people had a huge affect on my life in song and in the way I interacted with people. They inspired feeling in terms of how I sing my songs, courage, pride and endurance.

"Montreal's black community" means different things to different people. What does community look like to you? 

The black community is still a vibrant and thriving community with many talented and industrious people who have contributed much to the city of Montreal.

The city has changed in many ways over the years. We've lost many of our heritage buildings in the community, including the NCC [Negro Community Centre​], a building where many of us owe a great debt. We were proud of ourselves, educated about life and instilled with the belief we could accomplish anything we set out to do. 

I am personally thankful for the wonderful people that loved and taught us when we were growing up.

Skipper Dean is one of 13 Montrealers chosen as the 2015 Black History Month laureates. (Kevin Calixte/Montreal Black History Month)

Who in Montreal's black community do you turn to when you need advice or want to talk something through?  

Rev. Darryl Gray, Don Jordan and, most of all, my best friend Tony Yearwood have all assisted me in some of my major projects.They have always helped me see through the blind spots that were clouding whatever issues I was having.

In music, I look to my fellow entertainers as well, as we share many of the same experiences in the business.

Have you experienced racism in Montreal? How has that shaped you? 

As a child and growing up, there were many instances of racism. Although, Montreal was always a very open city compared to many others. But still today, as with the case of Freddie James which was on the news last night, the police and others still feel they have the right to judge people by the colour of their skin instead of the content of their character.

How well do you think Montreal deals with its diverse communities?  

The first time I've protested in years was against the charter of rights and values of the Parti Québécois. In many instances, I feel Quebec can be a closed society.


Tune into Homerun every Thursday in February to hear interviews with the 2015 Montreal Black History Month laureates live and check out our weekly web series. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.