BY: KABRENA ROBINSON
Toronto’s very own soulful and captivating singing sensation Simone Denny has seen a rewarding career in music marked by numerous awards and international success. However, she expressed that it was the music that found her.
Born and raised in Toronto to a family of mixed Caribbean heritage consisting of Guyanese, Trinidadian and Bajan culture, exposed her to a wide range of musical influences. Through a shared love of music with her parents, Simone grew up listening to a variety of genres. She would listen to “diametrical genres and styles” a fusion that she describes as “eclectic”. Among a mix of “Calypso, Classical, and Reggae meet Billie Holiday, Bryan Adams and Puccini is where you would find a young Simone”.
“Growing up in a Caribbean household was awesome,” she said in an interview with the Toronto Caribbean. “I had the best of everything in the sense that growing up in Toronto gave me the exposure to pop music and rock and different things here, but I got the best of Caribbean music as well. I had a rich musical upbringing and exposure and I believe it definitely influenced me in music just because I think it’s just such as important part of Caribbean culture.”
Though music was always an essential part of her life, it was not until around her late teens and early twenties that Simone made the decision to actively set out in her pursuit to become a singer. She expressed that in her formative years her interest was more geared towards a career in fashion designing or visual arts. It was while performing in talent shows at a young age, she discovered that a life of music was her calling. After continuously honing her craft by developing a following in local bands and as a studio session singer, she decided to audition and was accepted and enrolled in the music program at Humber College. This was cut short when another big opportunity to advance her talent presented itself. She went on to audition for a role in a Canadian production of “Mama, I Want to Sing!” where she was successful.
“Anybody that knows me knows that when I decide to do something I dive in completely and that’s what I do with music,” she said. “In this industry, it’s a constant hustle. You always have to be looking for something new or creating something and being innovative and just putting yourself out there.”
The onset of a climactic moment in Simone’s career kicked off in 1993 when she hooked up with DJ/producer Chris Sheppard and the group BKS. The rest was history. From this collaboration came numerous hits including the 1996 single “Astroplane,” which won both a Juno and a Much Music Award in the same year. This prompted a non-stop tour directly across Canada.
This was just the beginning, Sheppard and Simone teamed up again in 1997 to form the group Love Inc. Soon after their debut album went platinum.
The CD was a hit, with the popular single “Broken Bones,” claiming a top ten position on the Canadian pop charts and later placing #1 on the dance charts, and winning a Juno plus two Much Music Awards. Other hits such as a “You’re A Superstar,” and “Who Do You Love” brought Simone added awards and push started a successful tour for Love Inc. across Canada and Europe.
Simone’s career continued on an upward spiral. After the disbanding of Love Inc., Simone recorded “I Don’t Want You” for the duo Wildlife, that surged to the top of Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club Play Chart in October 2002, launching a major U.S. tour for Simone.
Since then, Simone’s resilience has also led her to internationally acclaimed status, fostering a successful solo career while travelling and performing in many places around the world, nabbing more awards and performing with international stars such as Patti Labelle and Jocelyn Brown.
“I’m the type of artist who likes to push the envelope,” she said. “Where you don’t see a lot of people of colour you usually find me because I think it’s important to see representation not only in R&B and soul music but through other different genres of music.”
Simone also shared that as a Caribbean woman of colour one of the major obstacles faced in the early stages of her career was the lack of support from some members of the black community.
“Being a woman of colour in the industry has never really been an issue for me so to speak,” she expressed. If anything, the only challenge I’ve had would probably be from the black community in the sense that they could never understand the music I was doing until it hit and did well.”
She added that it was not until her nationwide and international success that she began to see a surge of support from her community.
“Being acknowledged and embraced by your community is beautiful and it’s a great feeling and at the end of the day my job is to make music so everyone can enjoy,” she said. “The biggest highlight of what I do is seeing how the music that I do impact all different kinds of people.”
Alongside breaking barriers in music, Simone has also been actively involved with a number of charity projects. She also devotes some of her time to modelling and being a body positive and confidence advocate encouraging young women “to embrace their beauty regardless of shape or size”.
Simone shares that a new dance music project is currently in the works “so the work doesn’t end here”. Her advice to young aspiring talents is, “don’t wait on the industry to hone your skills. Know who you are and what you want and when you get that award or recognition you’re going to say, ‘this is like icing on the cake, but I knew it all along’.”
An upcoming event on her agenda is the Toronto Caribbean Newspaper’s annual Business Social to be held on May 6, 2018, at the Pearson Convention Center where Simone is scheduled to make an appearance as a special guest speaker.