As a working journalist, the Harry Jerome Awards rank among the most appealing assignments Rudy Blair has covered over the years.
Winning the prestigious honour that recognizes excellence in Canada’s Black community however surpasses that as far as the award-winning music reporter is concerned.
Blair was among 16 recipients recognized last Saturday night at the 32nd annual awards administered by the Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA).
“I can remember been at the side of the stage on many occasions just looking up in awe at the recipients accepting their awards and always imaging what it would be like to be in that position,” he said. “When I got the call that I was going to join the esteemed group, I was floored. This is your community honouring you and to know that my name is now associated with Harry Jerome who was a great Canadian is quite something else. Words cannot put it all together for me. I am so humbled and I hope to live up to this honour.”
Born in England five decades ago to Guyanese immigrants, Blair arrived in Canada eight months after birth and attended Vaughan Road Academy.
“That was probably the best high school I could have gone to,” recalled Blair who was among the first class of the school’s Hall of Fame inductees. “The teachers were fantastic and they provided me with the tools to help me get where I am today. Back then, I had a blast not just learning, but also making friends. Many of those relationships endure up to this day. Vaughan Road prepared me for the real world.”
The Humber College radio program graduate has also been honoured by his alma mater. He was inducted into Humber’s Radio Hall of Fame in 2012 and last year he was bestowed with an honorary degree.
One of four children, Blair dedicated the Harry Jerome Award to his parents – Arnold and Daphne – who attended the ceremony at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. He said they paved the way for him and his siblings – Colin, Debi and Abraham – to become successful citizens.
“My parents worked their butts off,” he said. “They toiled night and day to ensure we had a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and clothes on our backs. They made huge sacrifices to ensure we got the best Christmas and birthday presents. That inspired me to want to work hard because I wanted to live up to their standards. Every award or honour that I have received is really not about me. It’s about honouring my parents and my family.”
A music lover, Blair has interviewed many celebrities in the business, including Michael Buble, Janet Jackson, Lionel Ritchie and Barry White who died in July 2003.
“I interviewed Barry for about 30 minutes around Valentine’s Day by phone about two years before he died,” Blair said. “He’s my all-time favourite. When he passed away, I was the only one in Canada with a recent interview of him talking about his life and how he wanted to be remembered.”
In addition to helping 680 News win 10 Best News/Talk/Sports awards, Blair has covered three Grammy Awards, won the 2008 Canadian Media Idol regional award and appeared in the acclaimed documentary, Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006.
Last Tuesday, On the Mic with Rudy Blair debuted on Rogers TV. The weekly half-hour program showcases major music acts and shines a light on local talent. The 13-episode show also includes guest interviews and video highlights.
This year’s recipients include filmmaker Nicole Brooks who produced and directed A Linc in Time: The Lincoln Alexander Story.
She enjoys telling stories, particularly those that reflect the achievements of Blacks in Canada.
“It’s ingrained in me because even though I dabble in different disciplines in the arts, I tend to put it all under one umbrella and just call myself a storyteller, said Brooks who is bilingual. “So it just depends on the medium through which I want to tell that story. I am so enthralled about our history and people who are doing exceptional things in our community and documenting that or telling it on stage. That’s what really gets me going.”
Brooks, who was born and raised in Ottawa to Jamaican immigrant parents, is collaborating with the National Film Board of Canada to develop her first feature length documentary that will focus on Salome Bey who is considered Canada’s first lady of the blues.
New Jersey-born Bey, who has lived in Ontario since 1966 and is a member of the Order of Canada, is in a nursing home with advanced dementia.
Toronto Star reporter Jim Rankin who in 2002 led a team of reporters, editors and researchers involved in a Michener Award-winning investigative series into race, policing and crime in the city, was presented with the award for public advocacy.
“This award means a lot and it’s really a nice surprise,” he said. “I think it speaks to the work that me and my colleagues have been doing and it sort of builds on academic work going back a decade. As members of the media, we are in a position where we are able to bring stories to a bigger audience. That’s the power of what we have done and it has created some healthy discussions. It was no surprise to the Black community what we were reporting. But, what we were able to do was bring solid data and foundation to everything and show, with numbers, this is what it looks like at the end of the day.”
Other award recipients were Justice Donald McLeod who received the President’s Award, Liberal Party of Quebec youth commission president Madwa Nika Phanord-Cadet who was honoured for leadership, master chef Selwyn Richards who was recognized for business excellence, Toye Ojo who was honoured for academic brilliance, Vancouver-based youth entrepreneur Brittany Palmer who started an organization to make scholarships accessible to students, Justice Greg Regis who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Denise Jones who was the recipient of the Entertainment Award, basketball player Andrew Wiggins who has declared for this year’s National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, Noca Inc. president & chief executive officer Collin Haughton, Dalhousie University professor Dr. Kevin Hewitt who was recognized for professional excellence, CBC managing director Susan Marjetti who was the Diversity Award winner and YWCA Toronto president Dr. Rosemary Moodie who is a pediatrician and neonatologist at the Hospital for Sick Children.
BBPA president Pauline Christian congratulated the winners, thanked sponsors for their support and announced the organization, which recently received a City of Toronto grant to hire staff, will be moving into a new two-storey building later this year at 180 Elm St. The building, previously occupied by the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, is being converted into office space, conference rooms and a Centre of Excellence.
The awards honour the memory of Jerome, who set seven world track records and helped create Canada’s sports ministry. He was slated to be the keynote speaker at a celebration to mark the record performances of Canada’s athletes at the 1982 Commonwealth Games when he died suddenly a fortnight before the organizers contacted him. They decided to honour the athletes with awards named after Jerome.
Since the inception in 1983, a total of 370 Harry Jerome Awards have been presented to individuals and one organization – Eva’s Initiatives in 2005 – for excellence in myriad fields.