But we were present, even though we were few. Those were the chosen who could rip through the masculine veil and plant seeds for others like them to flourish. They are the silent movers and shakers whose goal is to support and protect Black Canadian music by any means necessary. For many years behind the scenes, Keziah Myers, Executive Director at ADVANCE Music Canada and Gail Phillip, Client Services Manager at FACTOR, have been paving a way and paying it forward. Two of the industries Black music guardians have gone on to become respected voices, well-known music executives and OGs in the Canadian music game.
Myers and Phillip are fired up and passionately respond when they talk about their work. How does the saying go? It’s never really work when you love what you do. Well, it’s quite apparent that they love what they do—wholeheartedly standing up for and creating change. Whether in operations or marketing—the keyword has always been and will continue to be ‘change.’ The Report On Business Changemakers recipient wanted to see more of a reflection of self in the hallways where she worked, so she changed the status quo. “I was the only one who looked like me from a gender perspective,” says Myers. “So when I got to Universal, I said, well, let's change that. What would I like to see differently? What would make things better? To me, it was more Black women in Universal. So I built an internship program for Black women at Universal.”
For Phillip, evolving meant thinking out of the box when being great at your job simply didn’t cut it. “Ray Robinson, MC Kid Kut and I created a company called Reach Records and ended up having a distribution deal at Universal music. At that time we didn't have the financial support like our mainstream counterparts,” says Phillip. However, thinking creatively, outside the box, helped convert the naysayers. “We had to try different ways to make money, get sponsors, and even market and promote the album. Being able to accomplish those goals during that time, despite all the odds we were dealing with, got me really excited about the music industry and what we were doing.”
From creativity to networking, Myers and Phillip found their joy in doing what comes naturally—assisting those who need help the best way they know how. It’s about finding ways to guide people in realizing their dreams. And it’s also looking to facilitate ways to divert roadblocks and find solutions for the betterment of the individual or organization. Phillip says, “I feel like any creative person needs protection. So whatever role I can play in helping people move to the next level is what brings me happiness. It taught me that I'm a very compassionate person when I can see us all winning.” And Myers echos the sentiment, “I have the power within me to affect change, whether it be how I speak to someone during the day versus working in an organization representing an entire cultural body of people. So we've got to make the music industry better by way of not just diversity but belonging, integration, celebration, acceptance, and collaboration.”
Understanding the glaring differences between 10 years ago versus today is crucial here. Back then, asserting yourself in the ranks was a difficult task. There were no mentorship programs, facilitators or anything else centred around progression for Black women—regardless of the industry. It either had to be created, or you made your way through without. However, both women pressed through finding mentors outside their workplace settings. Myers gleefully names her mom and Vivian Barclay, the only Black General Manager in music in Canada, as her inspirations and motivators that kept her going. At the same time, Phillip credits FACTOR President and CEO Meg Symsyk, iconic Def Jam executive and National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and Entertainment (NABFEME) founder Johnnie Walker and Business Development Professional Vivian Scott Chew for educating her and sharing anecdotes along the way.
While from another perspective, these two women are on different trajectories, they are both sowing seeds and making way for those blossoming and finding their way up the corporate ladder. Myers believes in presenting opportunities to Black women, especially because they are usually not readily available. “I lead a team at ADVANCE of only Black women. But my employees and I are constantly uplifting Black women, knowing that it's a male-dominated industry, recognizing that they don't necessarily get all of the opportunities.” Knowing this presents the prospect of encouraging the up-and-coming force. “We must encourage our young women to be courageous because I know it's not easy, but I find many young women out here have a lot of confidence. They're very bright. For me, it's about securing our seats, creating and building a legacy. So when we do that, we're creating the pathway for those coming up.”
Phillip and Myers are dedicated and committed Black music executives keen on relationship building and networking. Also, they tune into the community to listen intently and collectively represent the Black experience within the music industry space. They are bringing a clearer perspective to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
It's only fitting that we salute Keziah Myers and Gail Phillip for their contributions to the Canadian music industry. Like them, many amazing Black women across Canada contribute to the advancement, preservation, and upliftment of Black music and Black spaces in Canada. Unfortunately, there are not enough pages to celebrate you all but do know that we see you and salute you.