Jully Black’s Career Balancing Act

Photo Credit: Jully Black Entertainment Inc.

With this much talent, music is just the beginning. Over her decades of music making Jully Black has made a name for herself in the worlds of soul, R&B, reggae, rock, dance and transcended to TV as well. Though you may not have seen them online Black has been hard at work on her music, and has opted to only release her music at shows to give her fans all the more reason to come out and see her perform. We talked with Black ahead of her show tonight at the National Arts Centre about starting her empire, her career now and why moving stateside aided her career in Canada.

Ottawa Life: What inspired you to start your own label (Jully Black Entertainment Inc.) and what goals did you set out for the label?

Jully Black: Jully Black Entertainment has been around since 2003, but it wasn't spoken about. If you look at all my old albums, you'll see my imprint. It was inspired by Ray Charles, because he decided to own his masters at a time when that was unheard of. When I was offered a big advance I took a leap of faith and launched my label. So the first intention was to own my own properties, now that I'm way more mature I'm excited to sign acts. There was definitely a business intention at the start though.

I've heard you say that Canada never took you seriously as musician until you moved stateside, why do you think that is, and do you think that mentality is changing in the industry?

Back then there weren't as many outlets to service the music and play the music. When I was here and continuing to make music, it hit a glass ceiling and that's why I wrote a song called "Glass Ceiling." There's nowhere else to go, when you're at the top, as far as your work ethic and drive, and knowing you've committed to the art of music and doors won't open, I knew I had to leave. When I left and went to America, people realized they were missing me. Many people now has an address in Canada, but are they living in Canada, no. Most of them still have to get up and leave, Justin Beiber and the Weeknd. There are still borders within Canada that limit black music in particular.

What did you want to do differently on your latest record, Jully Black The LP, and why did you decide to only make it available at your shows?

For me the blessing of being a Canadian soul singer is that I'm influenced by so many sounds, and that's because of what I heard growing up, and what was available through radio. Canadians sitting in Toronto or Montreal, they are hearing what they're feeding to us, and so I was hearing all types of music. Being a woman of faith, I was raised in a church, so my gospel sounds came from there. When I got in a car with my parents or on a school trip, I was hearing "Life Is A Highway," or Blue Rodeo. It's interesting that what I heard out there and what I was raised on became my sound. With Detroit being there when I was frequenting Windsor, I heard a lot of the Detroit and that Motown sound. Of course I'm also of Jamaican decent so that reggae was in my blood too. As far as releasing the album at the live show, I wanted to do something a little unique. Prince was doing that with records as part of the admission to his shows. So once I decided to leave Universal and start doing music independently, I didn't want it to get lost in all the noise online. I thought it would be very special to have the shows be always new, because when throw things online it gets stale really quickly. More music is coming out for sure, there's another album that's ready and is just looking for distribution.

Your last singles and album dropped in 2015 so what have you been keeping yourself busy with in the meantime?

My charitable organization Empowered In My Skin has been keeping my extremely busy. I formed that organization with my best friend Nkechi Nwafor-Robinson. We found a voice and a solution to inspiring women and girls to be empowered in their skin. We talk about mental health often. We wanted to make sure that at a grass roots level we could speak to young women about things that may not be comfortable speaking about. We have an acronym SHAPE, but it's really about the shape of your life, spirituality, personality and experiences. Men have also taken a liking to our organization because it's about looking at the shape of your health, your career and your marriage. I've really been focusing on being a human being rather than a human doing. The music industry can really make us focus on what we're doing next but it's important to focus on what you're doing in your life.

With all this on your plate along with the music, do you think you'll be looking into TV work again soon?

I'm totally still interested, with my team we call it JB360 realizing that there's this 360 brand. I used to shun parts of my talent because I thought I was selling myself short. I'm doing TV so I can't do music, I'm doing music so I can't do TV. I can do it all because it comes easy and is very natural to me. I'm doing work now with Miranda Malisani over Instagram until we build it more, it's called SoulFull In The Kitchen. There have been a few networks in the food industry looking at us, because it's about nourishing the body through food and music. I think Canadian television could use a new Oprah, but with swag.