The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) announced Thursday (Jan. 25) it will be honoring music industry veteran Denise Donlon with this year’s Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award. The former president of Sony Music Canada and MuchMusic vice president and general manager will be honored at the 2018 Juno Gala & Awards on March 24 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Named after the co-founder of the Juno Awards, a music trade publisher who also coined the regulatory term CanCon, the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award recognizes industry leaders who have vastly contributed to the growth and development of the Canadian music industry.
“We are thrilled to name Denise as the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award recipient this year and to celebrate her extraordinary career,” said Allan Reid, president and CEO, CARAS/The JUNO Awards and MusiCounts, in a statement. “Denise’s exceptional business savvy and artistic excellence has made her a woman to admire, watch and learn from both within and outside the music industry. As a talented and fearless leader, whose deep understanding of the media landscape has resulted in groundbreaking Canadian programming, Denise has helped advance the careers of so many of this country’s dynamic musicians and artists.”
She joined MuchMusic in 1985 — a year after the national music television station launched — as a host and producer of The New Music and rose through the ranks, becoming director of music programming in 1992 for MuchMusic/Citytv and eventually vice-president and general manager in 1997.
As GM, the socially- and politically-conscious Donlon integrated social justice issues into programming, including Much Comes Out and Gemini Award-winning election coverage. She also helped launch a second music television channel, MuchMoreMusic, in 1998, geared to an older demographic,
In 2000, she became the first female president of Sony Music Canada, where for the next four years she led a team of 300 employees and worked alongside such Canadian artists as Céline Dion, Leonard Cohen, Chantal Kreviazuk and Our Lady Peace.
From 2008-2011, Donlon accepted the position of executive director of CBC/Radio-Canada English Radio and then a few years later returned to on-air television when she joined her original MuchMusic boss, Moses Znaimer, at his company ZoomerMedia, to co-host and co-produce a current affairs TV show, The Zoomer, with Conrad Black.
After her TV stint, Donlon, who is married to Canadian songwriting legend Murray McLauchlan, released her memoir Fearless as Possible (Under the Circumstances) in 2016.
In addition to her work in the broadcast and record industry, she has been heavily involved with such charitable organizations as War Child Canada, MusiCounts, Waterkeepers, Live 8 and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership. She contributed to the Clinton Global Initiative as the event producer, an initiative that raised over $21 million in one night.
Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award is not Donlon’s first recognition, by any means. She has received the Outstanding Achievement Award from Women in Film and Television Toronto, the Humanitarian Spirit Award at Canadian Music Week’s Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards (CMBI) and was named CMBI’s broadcast executive of the Year three consecutive times from 1993-1995. In 2009 she was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Powerful Women, was honored with The Rosalie Award at CMBI and inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Donlon is also a Member of the Order of Canada, the country’s second highest honor awarded to a civilian.
“When Allan called to tell me of this wonderful recognition, I almost drove off the road.” said Donlon in a statement. “I consider myself extremely lucky to have been involved in the evolution of this creative industry. Thank you to CARAS and all of the incredible artists and executives with whom I’ve been honoured to work. Canada is truly an Arts Nation. Long may we thrive.”