Deane Cameron, who served for close to 25 years as president of EMI Music Canada and was a significant force in the shaping of Canadian music that hit the charts at home and around the world, has died. The president and CEO of The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto since 2015 was visiting his cottage at Eagle Lake in northern Ontario when he suffered a heart attack while walking in the woods. He was 65.
News of Cameron’s death spread like wildfire on social media, with friends and associates expressing shock over his sudden passing, remembering him as a kind, respectful and strong leader, a passionate music fan, a mentor to many and a prominent part of the industry for 40 years. Some had seen him as recently as Monday at Roy Thomson Hall for a performance by comedian John Cleese.
Among the dozens of artists Cameron signed while helming EMI since 1988 were Tom Cochrane, his dear friend from school, as well as Anne Murray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Glass Tiger, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Rita MacNeil, The Moffatts, Helix, Econoline Crush, The Rankin Family, The Tea Party, Moist, Prism, Susan Aglukark, Alfie Zappacosta, Luba, and, more recently, Nickelback, Serena Ryder, k-os and Johnny Reid.
Cameron started in music as a drummer, in a band called Harvest with Cochrane, and got a job in his teens working in the warehouse at EMI. From there, he took various music-related jobs, including product coordinator for independent music distributor GRT, which represented such international labels as Virgin, Island, ABC and Sire.
In 1977, he returned to EMI as manager, talent acquisition, quickly rising to director and eventually vice-president. In 1988, he became the youngest Canadian president of a major music label.
In earlier days, Cameron signed labels like Anthem, Aquarius and Nettwerk and in more recent times partnerships with Arts & Crafts, whose co-founder now leads Universal Music Canada, and CP Records, whose co-founder launched XO and manages The Weeknd.
A life-long champion of Canadian music, he helped many EMI signings break outside the country and secure distribution around the world, including associated label acts April Wine and Corey Hart. He did the same at home for international acts, often making Canada the first international territory they’d break.
Over the years, Cameron built strong relationships with some of the world’s biggest artists, including Coldplay, Iron Maiden, Kate Bush, Keith Urban, Sarah Brightman, Norah Jones, Bob Seger, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur, Duran Duran, Richard Marx, Tina Turner, Pet Shop Boys and Radiohead.
He was also a longstanding supporter of the arts and culture of Indigneous communities in North America and was a strong advocate of anti-piracy initiatives and the revision of copyright laws.
In 2010, Cameron was honored for this work by the Governor General of Canada by being made a Member of the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest honors awarded to a citizen. On his award profile, Cameron is credited for having “championed Canadian musicians for decades” and called a “persistent and passionate executive in the recording industry.”
A year later, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented him with the 2011 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award. He served on the CARAS board for 14 years.
“To be recognized by my peers for doing a job that I love so much is a great privilege,” Cameron said at the time in a press statement. “Canada continues to have a thriving music industry and a wealth of incredible new talent that keeps me just as excited to be a part of this industry today as I was when I first began. In accepting this honour, I take immense pride representing the EMI Music Canada family – including staff, artists and associated labels, who are the most important part of any success that I have enjoyed.”
Tributes have poured in since Cameron’s passing. Just a sampling of the messages from Canada’s music industry elite:
Steve Kane, president, Warner Music Canada:
Like many in the Canadian music community I’m struggling to process the sudden loss of Deane Cameron.
I can be added to the list of people who called Deane their mentor, an inspiration and a friend. Deane Cameron changed my life, I’m not exaggerating. Few things were more satisfying than hearing one of his thunderous laughs. We know that Deane was a fiercely proud Canadian, but he also cherished his Scots heritage so I’ll turn it over to Burns..
Epitaph On My Own Friend
An honest man here lies at rest,
As e’er God with his Image blest;
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, and guide of youth;
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm‘d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d,
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
So long Deane, and thank you.
Derrick Ross, president, Slaight Music:
It is heartbreaking that we have to experience this loss. Deane created a family at EMI and we have lost a great man, mentor and most importantly a friend we relied on to support us as our champion. We achieved better for ourselves so that he would be proud of us and this loss is devastating. We are brothers and sisters because of him and we must celebrate that.
Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall:
Together, we mourn the loss of our President and CEO, and most importantly, our friend and greatest champion, Deane Cameron. His unwavering passion for supporting and promoting Canadian and Indigenous artists, and his contributions to the music community have inspired so many. We extend our love to his family and all those whose lives he touched and we share in this great loss with our patrons and colleagues. We will miss him with all of our hearts.
Anastasia Saradoc, economic development and culture, City of Toronto:
Deane Cameron did so much for so many. His passion for music, for artists and for people was so inspiring, especially his longtime devotion as a champion of the Indigenous arts community. Deane was a man of integrity who was always prouder for others victories than his own. There is no one who has made a bigger impact in the Canadian music industy or was more generous or giving. He changed the lives of so many artists and people – his handprints are all over some of the greatest moments and stories in Canadian music history… Deane was my mentor and a father figure especially after I lost my father. He has never stopped looking out for me and my mother too. He and Cristina have remained my extended family and I have felt stronger just knowing I have their love and support. How I will miss his incredible knowledge on practically everything, his classic one liners, his curiosity, his kindness, his amazing laugh and that twinkle in his eye. I am so blessed to have called this beautiful and great man my friend for 23 years. My heart breaks for Cristina and the rest of his family especially his beloved nephews and nieces that he absolutely adored. My heart also breaks for us his many music industry children – we are devastated. But we are all so lucky to have stood in his light. I love you Deane.