Honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a community event last weekend, award-winning American-born singer Liberty Silver reflected on a life-changing experience and challenges she faced as an adopted child growing up in Central Ontario.
Upon learning that she was adopted by a British family shortly after birth, an angry and confused Silver left her parents’ Peterborough home at age 12 and headed to Toronto. While swimming and singing to ease the pain at her sister’s residence, her voice caught the attention of a passer-by who invited her to an audition.
Less than 12 hours later, Silver was at New York’s Madison Square Garden performing as an opening act with a reggae band – The Wild Bunch – for Bob Marley & the Wailers in 1978.
“That was a magical night that changed my life in a blink,” recalled Silver. “After I was finished singing, Bob looked at me and said, ‘You sing good mon’ and I replied that I made $100. We both cracked up laughing.”
Silver started singing in tune and maintaining an accurate rhythm at a very young age.
“When I was three years old, I would dress in a floppy hat and high heel shoes and – with a portable tape recorder – walk around the corner to a friend’s home to croon,” she said.
Singing also provided an outlet for Silver who was bullied at school.
She later learned from one of her schoolmates that she was constantly harassed because she was Black and adopted.
After the New York show, Silver remained in Toronto.
“Peterborough back then was like the Deep South in the North,” she said. “I was excited when I came to Toronto because there were so many people that looked like me.”
The first Black woman to win a Juno Award, Silver captured a Grammy for her collaboration in the 1985 African charity ensemble single, Tears Are Not Enough. A decade later, she clinched the Jazz Report’s female Singer of the Year Award and her 1999 single, Love’s Eternity Gate, went double platinum and won five Black Music Awards.
The singer/songwriter co-wrote the themes for the 1996 and 2000 Olympics in Atlanta and Athens respectively and opened for several top artists and groups including The Temptations, B.B King and Harry Belafonte.
Shortly after releasing her 2005 album, At Last, Silver was forced to put her musical career on hold to raise her grand-daughters Faith and Destiny after their mother, Tia Daybutch, died in hospital from serious burns she received in a house fire at a Wigwamen residence in the Greater Toronto Area.
“She was 26 years old at the time and just about getting her life back together,” recalled Silver who became a mother at age 15. “We hugged and cried as she was set to be reunited with her children and 24 hours later, she was dead.”
Silver, who wrote and co-produced her last album, Groove Symphony that was released four years ago, currently spends a lot of time engaging young people. She enjoys working with autistic kids, making motivational presentations and teaching youths the business of music.
She was among 16 recipients of International Women Achievers Awards presented at the fourth annual gala last Saturday night.
“It’s humbling and inspiring to receive an award on International Women’s Day,” said Karlyn Percil who was the recipient of the Youth Leadership Award. “This reminds me of not only how far women have come, but of how much we still have to attain. It’s also a reminder to our men that they are part of the journey with us and they need to step up and help us to continue the work.”
Two years ago, Percil revealed on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Canada’s homegrown documentary series, “Life Story Project”, which is a platform for individuals to share a secret or their life stories, that she was sexually assaulted by a male family member at age nine while growing up in St. Lucia.
For just one day, Sharon Joseph didn’t mind been in the spotlight.
“It’s not something that I crave,” said the Volunteer Award winner. “But it’s quite an honour to be recognized on International Women’s Day.”
The mother of three, who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago 27 years ago, enjoys volunteering and working with young people. She co-ordinates the annual Peace, Love and Unity walk in the Jane-Finch community and oversees the Breakaway Relief Care organization located at 4020 Dundas St. W.
“My passion for giving and helping comes from my late father, Ire Campbell, and a few aunts who freely gave without expecting anything in return,” added Joseph who was a York West candidate in the last municipal elections.
Other winners were Central Commerce youth & child counsellor Jacqueline Smith, CTV news anchor Christine Bentley, firefighter Jen Reid, publicist Melissa Bessey, Teddy Bears of Hope founding president Sylvia Stark, actress Stacy-Ann Buchanan, Black Creek Community Health Centre worker Sabrina Gopaul, entrepreneurs Dr. Stella Uche Onuoha and Bojana Nikolic, Mayfield Secondary School regional arts program alumni Chelsea Stewart, Oracle Group chief executive officer Mocha Ochoa-Nana, community volunteer Ventelyn Anderson, publisher Alia Khan and 14-year-old high school student Kimberly Haniff.
Senator Don Meredith, who attended the event with his wife, Michelle, congratulated the winners and the event organizer, Princess Boucher, for highlighting women leaders and their outstanding accomplishments.
“These are women who through hard work and perseverance are making a difference,” he said. “They can take pride in knowing that each of them has contributed to the advancement of women, not just through individual achievements, but by showing us that it’s possible to build a better community, one action at a time.
“I think we can all agree that our nation is a better place because of your energy, commitment and determination. Our world is a better place because of your service.”