When you think of Canadian queer country singers, names like kd lang and Orville Peck easily come to mind. Look beyond this (somewhat obvious) layer of iconic artists, and you’ll see that the queer corner of Canadian country music has been gaining ground in recent years…and it won’t slow down in its reclaiming space after decades of “not belonging.”
From a lifelong musician finding a new home in this musical realm while breaking boundaries, and a newcomer to the scene making waves as a black queer powerhouse, to a behind-the-scenes industry veteran blazing the trail to others, country music is more cheerful than it has ever been.
But it’s not just queer musicians themselves who are making waves and fighting for change in the industry. In November 2021, creative director Bronwin Parks made history by becoming the first openly gay person in the Canadian Country Music Association Awards’ 39-year history to win an award.
The Feisty Creative founder didn’t win for his own musicianship, but rather for covering songs found on Vancouver band The Washboard Union’s album For ever and turn the overall vibe into album art and marketing, earning the Creative Director of the Year win. It was an exciting time for the creative veteran, and one he may relive in September as he is nominated again in the same category.
Their extensive portfolio is rooted in country music, but extends beyond and includes creative work for everyone from Jann Arden and Lorde to Metropolitan University of Toronto. Parks’ most unique belt notch might be hired to redesign the CCMA Awards statue itself, meaning they’re likely the first person to win an award they personally designed.
Although they didn’t attend the 2021 awards gala for pandemic-related reasons, Parks watched the coverage unfold online.
“I could hear my fellow gay guys cheering in all the Instagram videos people were tagging and sending me,” Parks laughs happily. “There’s definitely camaraderie in a win like this.”
Growing up in Alberta, Parks lived and breathed country music from an early age. They left the province in 2003 in search of greener pastures (meaning acceptance and a progressive mindset) and found it in Toronto. Despite the homophobia they faced daily in rural Alberta, Parks’ love of country music never wavered. They entered recording arts management school and their interest in developing marketing materials to help artists stand out, coupled with their exceptional networking skills, resulted in multiple job offers. .
“I really loved design and marketing and decided I could have the best of both worlds at Attention! [Web & Graphic] Design,” says Parks. “It didn’t hurt that their client list resembled my teenage record collection, and one of their biggest clients was the CCMA.”
From there, Parks worked directly with the CCMA from 2004 to 2019, and the last six of those years as the association’s creative director.
They resigned to serve on the board (the first openly queer CCMA board member) the following year. They say it’s only in recent years that they’ve seen a niche for themselves for queer industry professionals and musicians in Canada. This, of course, is partly thanks to their role on the CCMA Board of Directors: they walked in like a “bull in a china shop” and lobbied to update certain award categories to allow greater diversity in terms of applications and criteria.
Previously, the CCMA Awards only allowed singular projects to be awarded, but now that they are able to submit a body of work, many other independent artists (queer or otherwise) can be included in the nomination packages. . It’s a subtle but exciting way for emerging artists to gain exposure.
“The ACMC knew it needed to make changes and become more inclusive, but it can’t happen overnight. It’s like a long-running bar with an angry old bouncer who one day says, “Okay, you’re welcome here now!” ; queer people still don’t feel comfortable entering.
Last year, the CCMA made waves by hiring Canada’s Drag Race Season 1 winner Priyanka will co-host her TV awards show alongside singer Lindsay Ell.
Although Parks acknowledges that it will be difficult to match this level of homosexuality with this year’s awards ceremony on September 11 in Calgary, which currently has no queer representation in its organization, the ceremony of the last year has left a lasting impact on Canadian country fans and showcases. that progress is being made.
“There is a growing community of queer musicians in North America, more so in the United States due to population, but the movement cannot be ignored,” they explain. “If anyone in the Canadian country industry is looking for queer artists to work with, believe me I have a long list!”
Part of Parks’ 2022 CCMA Award nominations come from their work on merchandise by Edmonton queer artist D’orjay The Singing Shaman.
Being black and queer, D’orjay is certainly a rarity in country music, but has made her presence known by both being outspoken online and working with other queer musicians. The singer-songwriter arrived on the Canadian country scene in 2019 and released his debut album New type of outlaw in 2020 to a lot of buzz. The singer ended up with a number one single on the CKUA Radio charts in Alberta, as well as mentions in rolling stone, Nashville Scene and more.
“[Getting to work with Parks] was a truly amazing act and invitation within the country music community. We both live at an intersection where we are marginalized, but Bronwin also has different intersections that can lead to more privilege,” says D’orjay. “In the spirit of fairness and fairness in country music, I think you’re helping others in, and Bronwin does that.”
D’orjay will headline Banff Pride in late September alongside Calgary artists Amy Hef and Robert Adam, and plans to release a new single in early 2023.
Take a cross section of the Canadian music industry and ask them who they think are some of the best active guitarists on the country’s scene, and chances are one of the names on the lips of one person is Tara McLeod.
The Nice Horse guitarist is no stranger to the music scene, playing in world-renowned metal band Kittie since 2003, as well as Canadian music icons such as Fefe Dobson and Shawn Desman. They too just happens to be another queer individual (and the only openly queer musician) up for a 2022 CCMA award – for guitarist of the year.
Still, as an outsider to the country music industry before 2018, McLeod had understandable concerns with the genre in terms of accepting queer musicians.
“At first, I was extremely hesitant to play with Nice Horse because I didn’t think I was welcome in country music. I learned very quickly that I had joined the right people.
Nice Horse established themselves as the country’s first all-female country band. Not only are they the only all-female Canadian band to break into the Top 40 radio hits in over a decade with their twangy track “Cowgirl,” they are also active supporters of other queer artists and music makers. Collectively, the group is nominated for five CCMA 2022 awards!
McLeod feels empowered as a nominee for the 2022 CCMA award and hopes this will help those in and out of country music find their place in what can be a daunting industry for anyone who doesn’t quite fit. in the mould.
“Over the past few years, I have really been able to understand the importance of representation. If I can show my comfort in my own skin, living as an openly gay woman in country music, I hope other queer people can see that they can do it too,” McLeod says. “I hope this can help some of my peers in this industry – who are hiding in plain sight for fear of the complications it may have in their careers – to see that they are not alone.”
Having moved from Toronto to Calgary (aka Nice Horse headquarters) over the past year, the multi-faceted guitarist has seen notable growth in representation and diversity in Alberta’s provincial country music community. .
“During this year’s Country Music Alberta Awards show, I was especially thrilled by the number of us not only in attendance, but also nominees, award winners, performers and too working behind the scenes. I’m so happy to say that we’re all connected and supporting each other in our careers,” she says.
The Canadian Country Music Awards Gala and TV Show will take place in Calgary on September 10-11, 2022.