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Final Exam

Profile photo of Jully Black

Off the Charts

Canada’s Queen of R&B shares how one teacher’s sound advice on hard work helped launch her soulful career.

By Laura Bickle
Photo: Ivan Otis

Name: Jully Black

Describe yourself in elementary school.

Enthusiastic. Jovial. Leader.

Describe yourself in high school.

Confident. Driven. Cheerleader — not the kind with pompoms.

What was your favourite subject?

Law. I lived in an area that many considered at risk, where people didn’t know their rights. I became interested in rights and responsibilities — the Criminal Code was like a romance novel to me.

What was your favourite course?

I took an African studies course at Oakwood. We didn’t get much black history otherwise; this was a full semester, not just one project on Dr. King. It was revelatory — I recognized I was standing on the shoulders of someone else.

Your most challenging?

French and math. I still have nightmares that I didn’t graduate because of French.

Favourite literary or theatrical pieces studied?

The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Lord of the Flies and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

What are you currently reading?

Can You Stand to be Blessed? by T. D. Jakes.

Who are your cultural heroes?

Oprah. I met her but I’d love to sit and talk with her. And, Michael Jackson — he was music and music was him.

As a student, what career path did you dream of following?

An RCMP officer, but I decided to be a rock star instead!

What do you wish you had been taught in school but weren’t?

Financial literacy and life skills — including saving, investing and credit ratings.

Lesson learned in kindergarten that still applies today?

Sleep is necessary.

Favourite way to spend recess?

Assembling an R&B group and performing.

Fondest school-related memory?

It was a middle school music recital. My sister had just passed and left two kids behind. They lived with us. My one-year-old niece Chantelle was clingy and insisted on being with me, so I brought her onstage, held her on my hip and performed “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey.

If you could pick any time to attend school in, which would you choose?

My era — the nineties were great. The pressure on kids now is unreal.

Best advice given at school?

When I transferred to Oakwood in Grade 12, my music teacher, Mr. Greaves, sat me down and said that while I had raw talent, that I still had to buckle down, study music and sing outside of R&B. It changed my life. My diction and annunciation improved and all of my marks went up.