Dan Hill comes by his musical talent honestly


The late Dr. Daniel Hill III was a brilliant man and he set very high standards for his children.

The Howard University and University of Toronto graduate was a lecturer, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s first full-time director and Commissioner, a provincial Ombudsman, Ontario Black History Society’s co-founder, a prominent writer and a community activist.

He was also appointed to both the Orders of Ontario and Canada before his death in June, 2003.

While Grammy award-wining artist Dan Hill IV inherited his father’s drive, his interest in music from the time he picked up a guitar at age 11 did not sit well with his dad.

In I Am My father’s Son: A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness released last month, Hill recounts the difficult relationship through vivid family stories, letters, memoirs and his own award-wining lyrics, often revealing the motivation behind the songs.

He also sheds light on parallel lives, alternating between his father’s experience of racism in mid-20th Century America and his own search for identity as a young Black man in suburban Canada.

Born in the United States in 1954, the younger Hill came to Canada a year later and spent the next six years in Newmarket before the family re-located to Don Mills.

“Newmarket was a great place for me to grow up back then because it was mostly acres and acres of woods and farmers’ fields,” he said during a Black History Month concert at the Royal Ontario Museum last week. “There was no Internet or cell phones back then and all we had were two TV channels. My dad tuned out one of them because the cartoons were racist so I was there all day long just playing and making up songs. It was a very innocent kind of time.”

In addition to struggling with growing up in an interracial family in Don Mills in the 1960s which did not have many mixed-race or Black families, Hill faced other family issues that included his mother’s bouts with mania.

“My aunt tried to kill herself when I was eight and, three years later, my mom was taken away from us for a while,” he recalled. “We never knew when she was coming back and we did not know what was going on because we were just kids. It was hard, but there were good things that came out of that.

“My mom got better and my dad was unbelievable in that he never wavered. He was there for her every second.”

The author and singer-songwriter said his Caucasian mother, who turns 82 this month, has not suffered from mania since 1985.

Accompanied by pianist and Order of Canada recipient Joe Sealy and vocalist Liz Rodrigues, Hill opened the Black History Month concert with The Railway Porter’s Song which he co-wrote for Sealy and Paul Novotny’s recently-released album, Songs.

“When I was growing up in Don Mills in the 1960s, one of the most coveted jobs a Black person could have was on the railroad as a porter,” he said. “First of all, it was hard to get work as a Black male and secondly that line of work was thought of as a real high status job. We thought it would be really neat to write about the history of the railroad porters who were, like rock and rollers, away on the road most of the time.”

Sealy’s father was a railroad porter.

The powerful response to his memoir convinced Hill to return to the studio and record Intimate, to be released next Tuesday on “My Father’s Son Records Inc. /Universal Canada.”

In the CD booklet, several of the songs are accompanied by a “song story” detailing the emotional and often comical behind the scenes build up that inspired each song, expressing all sides of his artistic passion.


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