Dan Hill finds his muse

Dan Hill will host "Music for Haiti" on Feb. 21 at Smythe Street Cathedral (Courtesy of Tory Zimmerman)

Tara Chislett
THE AQUINIAN

When Dan Hill’s first album was released in 1975, he wasn’t interested in writing for other artists. In fact, until 1981, he focused exclusively on writing music for himself.

But 35 years, one grammy and five Junos later, Hill has become internationally known for writing songs that appear all the time on cover albums, on soundtracks, and in ringtones.

He’s written for numerous artists, from Celine Dion to Backstreet Boys. But on Feb. 21, he’ll be part of a different collboration, as he stops at the Smythe Street Cathedral in Fredericton for a night of music to raise funds for the World Vision relief efforts in Haiti.

The new year started with a bang for Hill.

Between releasing a book, a string of appearances, and preparing for the release of his first album of new material since 1996, Hill’s schedule has been packed with performances, in-store readings, and book signings.

Although approached many times to help with fundraising events, Hill’s busy schedule made keeping up with charity work over the last few months difficult. So when an opportunity to host a benefit concert for Haiti presented itself, Hill said yes right away.

“Our great concern is the people that have survived that are still grievously wounded,” he said. “ If they don’t get help, they’re going to die and Haiti really has to be rebuilt from the ground up because the lack of a solid infrastructure to begin with was one of the reasons why the earthquake demolished the country.”

Singer-songwriter Liz Rodrigues will join Hill on stage. The evening will feature a mix of music and storytelling, as Hill talks about the inspirations for his songs and shares passages from his book, “I Am My Father’s Son.”

Written after his father’s passing, Hill’s memoirs explore his relationship with his father, a man who moved to Canada from the United States to escape racism and McCarthyism.

Hill described his relationship with his father as “loving, but contestuous, very competitive” and a “juxtaposition for control.”

“He wanted me to go to university, he felt that was the only way a black person could survive in a racist world,” Hill said. “ I was determined to drop out of school and become the next Gordon Lightfoot.”

“ He thought I was doomed to poverty and I was determined to prove him wrong and let him know that I could find education in music that would take a different form that university.”

Hill said the struggle to gain his father’s approval prepared him for life in the music industry.

“[My father] forced me as a young man to define myself and to fight for my individual rights. That held me in really good steed when I had to take on the music business, because if I had survived my father’s authoritarian ways, I was definitely equipped to deal with the music business because it’s a pretty tough business.”

The conflict dragged on for years before ending in triumph in the weeks leading up to his father’s death. His father, who had planned his own memorial service, told Hill’s mother he wanted his son to sing two of his original songs at the service.

“That was almost like his way of saying ‘Okay son, I do believe in what you’ve done.'”

“He did in his own way approve of my work as a songwriter and a musician.”

Even though Hill’s determination to make it in music created constant conflict, he said it had to be that way. He’s certainly grown up, from the kid who picked up the guitar at 14 years old and started writing songs in his bedroom, to an internationally known storyteller.

But despite the challenges of the journey, he said he can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I think I’m always going to be writing,” he said. “ This is my life’s journey to be creative. I know it sounds overly simplistic but this is my job, to write and tell stories.”

Hill will appear at Smythe Street Cathedral as part of World Vision’s “Music for Haiti.” Show starts at 6 PM and tickets are $20.

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