At the 1985 Juno Awards, k.d. lang wore a wedding dress. In 2004, Alanis Morissette seemed to be wearing nothing at all. An American band took the prize as the best Canadian group in ’78, and then there was the time Blue Rodeo taught Robbie Robertson how to play his own iconic song. If your perception of the Juno Awards is that the annual Canadian music blowout is predictable and ho-hum, think again. Fifty years ago, when what is considered to be the first Juno Awards ceremony happened at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall, nobody could have foreseen Juno’s weird evolution. What will happen at this year’s broadcast on Sunday evening at Saskatoon’s SaskTel Centre is anyone’s guess, but what follows below is a primer on what came before.
1. The first Juno Awards were not called that. They were the Gold Leaf Awards, founded by record producer Stan Klees and Walt Grealis, and sponsored by Grealis’s industry trade magazine RPM, which had, since 1964, polled readers and industry figures for its choices of the years’ top artists and music-biz leaders. A formal ceremony for the Gold Leaf winners didn’t happen until an invitation-only, no-frills banquet on Feb. 23, 1970. Some 125 people were expected; twice that number showed up, overwhelming the caterers. “They acted as if they’d never seen free food before,” Klees told The Globe and Mail. “We ran out of sandwiches in 20 minutes.” The open bar was shut down early, and the night’s first award went to Dianne Leigh, as the top country singer for her single I’m a One Man Woman. She squeezed her way through a crowd to the lectern – no stage – to accept her award.
2. One of 1970′s winners, Andy Kim (voted top male vocalist), spent the afternoon promoting his single Be My Baby with someone from his label, Quality Records (voted best company for Canadian content). Running late, Kim ended up changing clothes at the home of the label guy’s parents. Years later, Kim found out that the Quality Records rep was in fact Barry Keane, who went on to become Gordon Lightfoot’s drummer, a position he holds to this day.
3. On Jan. 1, 1971, nationalism’s day arrived in Canadian pop music. The country’s AM radio stations were now required to play at least 30 per cent Canadian music. (Commercial FM stations followed suit in 1975.) The regulation had been spearheaded by Pierre Juneau, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In recognition of his efforts, the name of Canada’s national music award was changed to “Juno."
4. At the Juno ceremony on Feb. 22, 1971, Juneau received a special award as the Canadian music industry “man of the year," and was applauded by an audience composed of, according to a Globe correspondent, “long-haired musicians, medium hairy public relations men and balding vice-presidents of recording companies.” Women were at least allowed to win other awards: Anne Murray won the first of her record 25 Junos, beating out Joni Mitchell and three others for Best Female Vocalist.
5. A famous photograph from the 1973 gala at the Centennial Ballroom at Toronto’s Inn on the Park captured the Mount Rushmore of Canadian music: Murray, Gordon Lightfoot and Stompin’ Tom Connors. Murray told The Globe that she used to be embarrassed by the snapshot because she’s shown holding a smoke in her left hand. “When I published the photo in the past, I always airbrushed out the cigarette. I don’t care about that any more though. I haven’t smoked in a hundred years.”
6. By 1974, the Junos were no longer an invitation-only event. Tickets to the ceremony that year sold out at $12.50 a pop. (Seats for the 2020 Junos in Saskatoon range from $39.95 to $149.95.) In a procedural switch, RPM did not publish the names of the winners in advance. Imagine the suspense leading up to the announcement of Murray as the year’s top female vocalist again.
7. For the first time, the Junos were broadcast on CBC television in 1975, and for the second year in a row, Terry Jacks’s weeper Seasons in the Sun was voted top single. The maudlin international hit beat out contenders including Paul Anka’s (You’re) Having My Baby. Both those songs placed in the top five of a mean-spirited, worst songs of all time poll conducted by CNN in 2006.
8. Control of the Junos began shifting in the mid-1970s to an advisory committee of industry representatives called the Canadian Music Awards Association. The body would become the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which officially took over the Junos in 1978. That year, Heart’s Juno win as top Canadian group was understandably controversial, given that they were an American group. Some of the members, however, were landed immigrants in Canada. CARAS later stipulated that landed Canadians had to be in the country for six months during the previous year to be Juno-eligible. It wasn’t enough for Stompin’ Tom, who protested against rewarding Canadian citizens residing elsewhere by sending his six trophies back to CARAS. They were stored in a closet for a while before CARAS president Daisy Falle tossed them in the garbage.
9. CARAS created the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1978, the first inductees being jazz-piano legend Oscar Peterson and Auld Lang Syne enthusiast Guy Lombardo. As of 2020, the overwhelming demographic of Hall of Fame inductees is the white male. “I know we would all like to think that a boys’ club does not exist in our industry, but just look around you,” an exasperated Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins said at the band’s own induction in 2019.
10. Many remember when k.d. lang wore a wedding dress as she accepted her Juno for Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year in 1985. But in 1982, Juno performer and Instrumental Artist of the Year Liona Boyd wore a CBC-designed white dress with layers of embroidered lace and sequin-covered petals that they generously allowed the guitarist to keep. “I remember thinking that if I ever decided to get married it would make a perfect wedding dress,” Boyd told The Globe recently. “Sure enough 10 years later, when I married my ex-husband in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, I wore that same dress.”
11. By the early 1980s, the music industry was undergoing radical developments. In 1983, co-host Alan Thicke held up a strange, circular object of plastic and aluminum called a “compact disc.” Co-host Burton Cummings later said that the disc, of the album Toto IV, was the first CD he’d ever held in his hand. In 1984, MuchMusic hit the airwaves and Juno introduced its Best Video category. The inaugural winner was Rob Quartly, for his visual treatment of Corey Hart’s Sunglasses at Night.
12. After taking 1988 off (owing to a rescheduling of the awards from fall back to spring), Junos set up shop at the O’Keefe Centre (now Meridian Hall) in Toronto.
13. Alt-country rockers Blue Rodeo (up for five awards) were asked in 1989 to perform with members of the Hall of Fame inductees the Band for a performance of The Weight. Confusion reigned when the Band’s Robbie Robertson decided he didn’t need Blue Rodeo after all. He was wrong. Blue Rodeo not only ended up on stage with Robertson, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko, but ended up giving Robertson a refresher on the song he had written. “He couldn’t remember the vocals, because he hadn’t played it in a long time," Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy later said.
14. Juno took its act out of Toronto for the first time in 1991, to Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The year marked the introduction of the Rap Recording of the Year, won by Maestro Fresh-Wes for Symphony in Effect. In 1998, again in Vancouver, rap trio Rascalz declined to accept the rap award, protesting the organizers’ decision not to include the rap, reggae and dance awards in the televised portion of the show.
15. Beginning in 1993, nominations for the major categories were determined by domestic sales instead of CARAS members’ votes.
16. The four-CD box set Oh What a Feeling, named after the Crowbar song, was issued in 1996, commemorating 25 years of Juno. (“Play Me a Rock and Roll Song,” the chorus of a 1972 hit by Valdy, was rejected as the box set’s title.) The last artist to sign on to allow the use of their song on Oh What a Feeling was Neil Young, whose manager Elliot Roberts resisted the inclusion of Heart of Gold. “That song is like a millstone around his neck," a groaning Roberts told the compilation’s co-producer Larry LeBlanc over the phone. They settled on Helpless (though Heart of Gold did land on Oh What a Feeling 2 in 2001).
17. In 2000, CARAS commissioned a new millennium Juno statuette. Designed by Hamilton artist Shirley Elford, the fluid human form was inspired by the Greek goddess Juno. The hand-blown glass creation sparked a minor gender war. Then-Juno publicist Jane Harbury told The Globe that the statuette’s gentle “undulating lines” were appropriate. “To me, it’s almost singing the praises of our women." Klees, Juno co-founder and designer of the original manly walnut trophy, disagreed, saying the "girl thing” was a running gag in the industry. CARAS’s Falles attempted to settle the matter by declaring the new statuette “androgynous.”
18. Private broadcaster CTV took over the Juno broadcast from the cash-strapped CBC in 2002, and immediately opened its wallet by taking the show on the road: First to St. John’s, followed by stops in Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax, Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver and, in 2010, back to St. John’s. The Junos returned to CBC in 2018.
19. Three months after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, 2004 Juno host Morissette said hold my bathrobe. The Jagged Little Pill star was wearing the robe on stage at Edmonton’s Rexall Place until she took it off to reveal a flesh-coloured bodysuit, complete with pasted-on nipples and an unruly tuft of pubic hair. It was her response to the American radio censorship of the first line of her song Everything.
20. The year 2004 saw the creation of the annual Juno Cup, a hockey match pitting entertainers (The Rockers) against former professional hockey players (The NHL Greats). Co-founded by Blue Rodeo’s Cuddy, the event raises money for music education charity MusiCounts. Cuddy recently named his all-time Rockers lineup: Sam Roberts, Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy at forward; Chad Brownlee and Adrian Sutherland on defence; goalies Matt Barber and Canadian women’s hockey Olympian Sami Jo Small. The Rockers have won two of the 16 games played.
21. As a result of an auditors’ recount in 2008, Murray’s Duets was a last-minute addition as a nominated LP in the Album of the Year category, bumping Feist’s The Reminder off the list. When Murray heard about it, she suggested they make it a field of six albums. Feist ended up winning that award (and one, two, three, four others).
22. In 2010, Dan Hill discovered that his 1978 Juno had been stolen from his house. A year later the Sometimes When We Touch singer took a taxi to a soundcheck for a Juno songwriters circle event at Massey Hall. The cabbie told Hill he had his Juno. Someone he’d picked up at Hill’s house a year earlier had paid the fare with the stolen statuette. Hill won’t disclose how much he paid to get the statuette back, but the ransom was enough that he had to pull out a Visa card to meet the price.
23. Fun fact: Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, nominated for two 2020 awards, has won 15 Junos – three times more than the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
24. This year’s Juno host, Alessia Cara, said she planned to ask two-time emcee Michael Bublé for a little advice. Maybe she shouldn’t. In 2013, the crooner crassly suggested that singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s dress “would look better on my floor.” Bublé's locker room misogyny was echoed in 2017 when master of ceremonies Russell Peters served up a jail-bait joke: “That’s a lot of young girls here. This is a felony waiting to happen.”
25: Next year’s Juno Awards take place on March 28, 2021, at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. Though the annual ceremonies began in 1970 and the 2021 event will be the 51st of its kind, Juno organizers are going ahead with the plan to call 2021 its 50th anniversary.
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