Bell Media president Randy Lennox, the man who rewrote published radio charts in his bedroom as a kid and went on to become president of Universal Music Canada for almost two decades -- helping to develop Canadian acts like The Weeknd, Drake, Alessia Cara, Justin Bieber, Hedley, The Tragically Hip, Shawn Mendes and Shania Twain -- was honored over the weekend with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the 2017 Juno Gala Dinner & Awards at Ottawa's Shaw Centre, and then later feted at the historic All Saints church where his name was up in giant lights.
The award, given to him in front of 1500 members of the music industry and many nominees, recognizes those who've helped grow and develop the Canadian music business. Canadian actor and musician Kiefer Sutherland, who first met Lennox when he was setting up his Ironworks record label, presented the award and called Lennox “a titan of industry,” “dogged supporter of the arts, artists and their rights” with a “commitment to doing the right thing, the right way."
He then threw to a tribute video that included congratulatory messages from U2, Peter Gabriel, Sir Lucian Grainge, U, Bob Ezrin, Alessia Cara, Bruce Allen, Michael Cohl, Jeffrey Remedios, Sting, The Weeknd, The Tenors, Shawn Mendes, Hedley’s Jacob Hoggard, Daniel Glass, Gene Simmons, Gary Slaight (in a lone ranger outfit). It concluded with words from Gord Downie.
“We had some good times over the years. You only brought a smile and made smiles…” said the singer of the legendary rock band The Tragically Hip who is fighting terminal brain cancer. “I love you. I hope you’re having a wonderful evening wth the people who love you most. Sorry I couldn’t be there…You’re a gentleman, a beautiful man. Happy days.”
With that, Sutherland brought up Lennox to the music of The Tragically Hip classic "New Orleans is Sinking,” giving him a big hug. “That’s gonna be a hit, that song,” Lennox quipped, then seriously, and looking a little teary, “That was a little overwhelming, folks.”
“Thanks you for making this journey and for sharing this evening with us,” he said to Kiefer who stood on the stage holding his award for him, while he spoke. “This man loves music like the rest of us. He’s not only one of our finest actors in this country ever but a real music guy.
“Whatever this award means, I think it’s really appropriate we just attribute it to Mr. Gord Downie, who is really one of the finest artists our country will ever produce. Extraordinary guy. I’m so touched by what he said.”
Lennox then thanked the crew from the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS), which puts on the Juno Awards, and dove into his speech.
“My life is really, as all of ours are, a series of great teachers – and I’d like to start with Walt Grealis – whose namesake is this award’s. He left us in 2004 and in 1970 he started the Juno Awards with his mother and his aunt making sandwiches. The same year he started Canadian Content and was one of the champions of Canadian Content in the country. That’s a pretty good year, 1970, 37 years ago. We stand on his shoulders. He was a great promoter and the first Junos was hosted by the way by Ottawa’s own Paul Anka in 1975 and televised.”
He then thanked “first and foremost” his first boss, former Universal Music Canada president Ross Reynolds, who was in the room, as well as others from “back in that day” — Les Houston, Laura Bartlett, Deane Cameron, Don Ierullo and Joe Summers. “Thank you because you helped shape the business and we know it, and your legacy deserves our eternal gratitude. You really did build the business back in the last 30 years so thank you.”
In keeping with the top 10 chart theme from his youth, he did a chart of 10 people who have had a “profound influence” on his life and career, in no particular order Ray Daniels, Bruce Allen, Michael Cohl, Bob Ezrin, Gary Slaight, Sam Feldman, John Brunton , George Cope, Bruce Rothney and Daniel Glass.
“And probably the most important, next to my family, of all is the ones I have shared the deepest process and the deepest joy with: and those of you know who you are and you are the Canadian artists,” Lennox continued. "So may Canada’s artists enjoy proper compensation for their works, may Canada’s artists continue to punch well above our weight as we’ve been doing for years.
He wrapped by thanking his three families: Universal Music’s Sir Lucian Grainge, Wesley Hayden, Jeffrey Remedios, Jody Shivdasani, Mark Jones, and “the entire team” at the label. He then thanks Graham Henderson and Music Canada, and the three other long-time label heads Steve Kane (Warner Music Canada), Deane Cameron (formerly EMI Music Canada), and Shane Carter (Sony Music Canada).
“We’re formidable competitors, all these years, however, we ultimately became great partners as we navigated through probably the most impossibly challenging times in our business in the early 2000s as piracy became a tsunami and we had to figure it out,” he said. “And it hit us and the business went down 60 percent folks — that’s six zero — in less than a decade so thank you for your partnership. We got through it and I hear you’re doing just fine you guys.”
His second family is the new one at Bell Media, “an amazing group of talented, smart people. I am loving every minute of this new journey in Bell Media.” And then, of course, his wife, Barbara, “for being the most amazing partner I could ever dream of” and his kids, Hayley, Katey and Robert. “What I do makes sense because of the four of you.”
He concluded his acceptance speech by quoting John Lennon’s “Life is something that happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
“Because of this, I stand amazed at the philanthropic work being done in this country and as I get older I get more and more appreciative of what that means, and in the much needed areas — the stigma around mental health, dementia, cancer and addiction; the establishment of MusiCounts and Smile Zone, Bell Let’s Talk,” he said, himself having contributed efforts to charities that helped raise millions of dollars, as Sutherland noted in his introduction to Lennox.
“As I watch and get involved and I watch individuals like Gary Slaight and George Cope change the landscape philanthropically in this country forever, I am absolutely inspired and I‘m delighted to be a part of this. It’s just the most rewarding part of my life — in addition to my family and love for music — so let’s just remember: everyone you meet is going through something that you know absolutely nothing about , so please be kind, always.”
After the gala, Lennox was feted at AllSaints — a church that once hosted a royal wedding as well as funeral for a Prime Minister’s state funeral — that had giant rectangular pillars of light with the initial L and his name spelled out in giant lights. Rapper and Universal executive Kardinal Offishall DJed and there were speeches given by Remedios, Henderson and artist Sam Roberts.
Also in attendance were a who’s who from his 30-plus years in the business, including Michael Cohl, Bob Ezrin, Bryan Adams, Ross Reynolds, Deane Cameron, Bruce Allen, Ralph James, Gary Slaight, Ray Danniels, Daniel Glass, Sam Feldman, Jack Ross, Pegi Cicconi, Jake Gold, David Corey, Meghan Symsyk, Darren Gilmore, George Cope, Sol Guy, Brian Hetherman, Chris Taylor, Cherie Sinclair, The Tragically Hip’s Rob Baker and Paul Langlois, Rob Zifarelli, Bernie Breen, Patrick Sambrook, Wesley Hayden, Jody Shivdasani, and more.
CORRECTION 4/6: An earlier headline for this story listed Justin Bieber as one of the artists who paid tribute to Lennox. While the former Universal Music Canada exec did play a part in Bieber's development as an artist, the singer was not in attendance nor was he featured in the tribute video.