How do you make it as a black person in a white world? Aim higher and work harder. Dan Hill and his family know all about it.
The Grammy and Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter, most recognized for his classic Sometimes When We Touch, will appear in concert at the Royal Ontario Museum’s Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre tonight with guests Joe Sealy and Liz Rodrigues to celebrate Black history month.
The night will feature musical selections from Hill’s upcoming album Intimate — an album spanning fifteen years of his most candid reflections.
He’ll also talk on his book, I Am My Father’s Son: A Memoir Of Love And Forgiveness, where Hill comes to terms with the lifelong relationship between he and his often gregarious, always demanding father — human rights activist Dr. Daniel G. Hill — and the legacy he left behind following his death in 2003.
“It’s going to be a potpourri of different styles and we’re going to be celebrating very powerful Black role models,” Hill said (modestly avoiding mention of his dad’s achievements as the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s first-ever director and co-founder of the Ontario Black History Society, among other feats). “Father-son struggles like mine are pretty universal. We’re always in their shadows and we’re always working hard to impress them.”
A tough act to follow, for certain, but triumph tends to run in the family. Look no further than the Hill clan for fine examples of Black achievement. Brother Lawrence Hill penned award-winning novel, The Book Of Negroes, and Dan Jr.’s musical career spans nearly 40 years of writing hits for himself and some of the more prominent names in the biz, including Céline Dion, Alan Jackson and the Backstreet Boys.
Nothing much different in this talented gene pool, says Hill, who partly credits the success to his father’s exacting and at times overwhelmingly high standards. Factor in growing up the child of a mixed-race family in the predominantly white neighbourhood of Don Mills in the 1950s and ’60s — an environment where the Hills had to put in Herculean efforts to overcome the quiet, though nonetheless insidious, prejudices with which they contended.
“The racism (in Canada) was more polite. It was definitely a friendlier environment than the States (where Hill Sr. grew up),” says Hill. “It’s both a blessing and a curse. Being black, you faced an uphill battle. The odds were set against you, so black families had to hyper-achieve. A lot of those racial and cultural biases still exist today, to a degree. But the power of your success trumps any racism.”