Canadian singer-songwriter Corey Hart, best known for the enduring pop-culture phenom “Sunglasses at Night” from 1983, and whose albums sold 17 million copies around the world, will receive his first-ever lifetime achievement recognition in his homeland after the winter thaw: a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in downtown Toronto.
The ground is too frozen now for the permanent maple-leaf-esque star to be installed in the sidewalk that already honors other Canadian musicians such as Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Celine Dion, Blue Rodeo, Jann Arden, k.d. lang, The Band and The Tragically Hip. Instead, the 54-year-old Montreal native posed with a commemorative plaque on the red carpet in October prior to a private gala dinner and TV broadcast later aired only in Canada. His close friend, tennis great Chris Evert, flew in to induct him.
In Canada, Hart’s accomplishments alone include 30 top 40 hits and a diamond certification for his 1985 album Boy in the Box (signifying sales of 1 million units; gold at the time was 50,000). In the U.S., he landed nine Billboard Hot 100 top 40 hits, including “Sunglasses At Night,” which peaked at No. 7, and 1985’s “Never Surrender” at No. 3.
For the Walk of Fame gala, Hart was accompanied by his family — wife, noted francophone singer Julie Masse; daughters India; Dante; River; and son Rain — but they were also on edge that evening as a massive hurricane headed for their house in the Bahamas, where the famous couple had retreated in 1996 to raise their kids.
His last album of the ’90s was 1998’s Jade; his next, Ten Thousand Horses, wasn’t until 2014, the year he came out of retirement to perform an official “farewell” concert, One Night, Three Decades of Music, which sold out Montreal’s Bell Centre, and also put out an autobiography, Chasing the Sun.
Fellow Walk of Famer Paul Anka, who worked with Hart when he was just 11-years-old, told Billboard in an email that he saw “star quality, humility, a good family upbringing [and] a very strong desire to be in this very difficult business,” even then. “He paid his dues until he finally found his niche,” he added. “He always verbalized how blessed he was to finally have had a taste of this industry and he applied himself accordingly in a very professional manner. He had the ‘it.'”
Hart had just turned 20 when Bob Ramaglia and Terry Flood of Montreal’s Aquarius Records signed the singer-songwriter and destined heartthrob. Donald K. Tarlton, co-founder of Aquarius and a top concert promoter, called Hart “one of the great Canadian pop artists of all time, excelling as a magnificent singer-songwriter and truly entertaining performer,” he wrote to Billboard.
“I was fortunate enough to tour Corey across the country several times, smashing box office records and thrilling audiences from coast to coast, including multiple sell-outs of the Montreal Forum and Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens, as well as every major arena in the country. Corey was always a perfectionist and took the necessary time and caring attitude to treat his fans with great respect and always as close personal friends.”
One of those dedicated, longtime fans, Montreal’s Gina Lesage, really went to bat for Hart after being told by a fellow fan that he wasn’t in Canada’s Walk of Fame. “I thought this was already done a long time ago,” she told Billboard. “I was then on a mission.
“I rallied the fans on Corey’s Facebook page to help get petitions signed and had everyone I could send me a letter explaining why they thought Corey should have this honor. I received hundreds of letters from around the world. I made copies of those letters and sent them by registered mail every year since to the CWOF offices.
“I wanted to make sure they knew that they had forgotten to induct such an iconic Canadian. Also, every morning for two years, I posted on his Facebook page reminding fans to vote for him online. I am very thrilled that the CWOF finally chose to induct him and I am proud to have been able to take part in such an important crusade to get him this well-deserved recognition.”
Seymour Stein, chairman, Sire Records/VP Warner Bros. Records, was a fan and champion of Hart in the ’80s and in 2003 offered him his own label, Siena, with Warner Music Canada. He was surprised to learn from Billboard that this Walk of Fame induction was Hart’s first major honor.
“It must be a typo in your email that this is Corey’s first major award in Canada,” he wrote. “Corey most certainly [must] have been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He also should have been awarded best newcomer the year for ‘Never Surrender’ and ‘Sunglasses.’ But I remember that he chose to go face to face with Bryan Adams for best artist award. Blame that on his youth and the management he hooked himself with.
“‘Sunglasses’ has been interpolated by well over 100 artists, mostly from the hip-hop field, and ‘Never Surrender’ is an anthem,” Stein continued. “I think it is his anthem and that is why he remains active as ever and thankfully with Warner Music and his Siena label. Corey, if this is your first award, it is the first of many.”
The day after the Walk of Fame gala, Hart was in a Toronto studio laying down his vocal part on a version of Chris Rea‘s “Driving Home for Christmas,” for Jonathan Roy (son of hockey legend Patrick Roy), who Hart signed to Siena and has been mentoring for a few years. Roy is releasing his debut EP, Mr. Optimist Blues, Jan. 20, on Siena/Warner Music Canada.
The Christmas single hit No. 1 on the national mainstream AC chart and holiday airplay chart; it was Hart’s first Christmas recording since 1985’s “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.” Hart has also been writing songs for Roy, including the 2015 single “Daniella Denmark” and last year’s “You’re My Ace,” which are both on the EP.
Steve Kane, president of Warner Music Canada, was in attendance at the Walk of Fame ceremony. He has worked closely with Hart on Siena for more than a decade.
“People talk about Corey being out of sight, out of mind, when we weren’t seeing him the public eye,” Kane told Billboard. “He was certainly active behind the scenes, as a writer and a producer. Celine [Dion] is obviously the shining example of that. He’s never stopped creating. He just wasn’t doing it in public.
“It’s a testament to him that he took that time to really connect with his family and raise his family with Julie in the way that they wanted to, which was out of the public eye and a sense of normalcy. So I think for him he’s just the kind of guy that’s never going to stop creating. And then with our involvement with him in Siena Records, he had a new outlet to start working with young artists and start bringing some of that work he’d been doing privately back into the public eye, most recently with Jonathan Roy.”
The 2016 Canada’s Walk of Fame inductees also included fashion reporter Jeanne Beker (who got her start co-hosting The New Music with John Roberts of Fox News); filmmaker Deepa Mehta; actor/director Jason Priestley; NHL player Darryl Sittler; and the late actor/director Al Waxman. The gala included presentations by Kiefer Sutherland, Dr. Roberta Bondar, Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall and a performance of “Sunglasses at Night” by Nelly Furtado.
“It does speak volumes to the amount of influence that Canadians have,” said Kane, “not just on popular culture but science, the arts, when you take a look at the Walk of Fame in particular, it’s a multi-disciplinary honor, so it’s not just musicians or popular culture figures. I’m just glad that, as they were going through the musical category, that they finally recognize somebody who is a peerless songwriter and amazing artist.”