Against the Flow

Race, radio and Canada’s musical coming of age

My musical coming of age occurred during the soulful, psychedelic 1970s, against the hypnotic groove of the Ohio Players, Kool and the Gang, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Well before that, when I was eleven, I had split my first allowance between Bill Withers (“Lean on Me”) and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now [You Will Never Never Never, Never Never Never Know Me]”). I mostly spent my money on black music, but I listened to everything: John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Van Morrison, Donny and Marie. In the Toronto suburb of Pickering we tuned in to 1050 CHUM and CFTR, top 40 stations that stubbornly characterized their music as “rock.” The Jackson 5, Roberta Flack and Rufus dominated the charts, but the posters and promotional materials rarely highlighted black artists. Rather, they affirmed daily that these were white stations that catered to white audiences.

It was not...