R&B queen's loyalty lies with GM: Toronto singer-songwriter remains true to her mother's employer

21-Jun-2014 | SHARE:

Juno Award-winning singer, songwriter and actress Jully Black always has a lot on the go.

From leading a fitness boot camp June 1 to kick off Kidney Cancer Canada's fundraising campaign to hitting the stage next Saturday for a World Pride concert, Black is a full-throttle personality.

Named one of CBC's 25 Great Canadian Singers Ever, she's recorded hits such as "Seven Day Fool" and performed with and written songs for some of the biggest names in music: Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nas, Destiny's Child and Elton John, to name a few. Her latest album MIC - Made In Canada will be released this fall.

Black credits her success to the example set by her mother, Agatha Gordon, now going on 80, who worked for years at General Motors.

"She taught us that the simple key to success is ambition and hard work," writes Black under a photo posted on her Facebook page of her mom's GM employee card.

"Thanks to GM, my Mom not only raised ALL9 children on her own, but she also made sure we all were able to dream BIG and realize them."

Black, the youngest of the clan who grew up in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, says her mom was encouraged by a friend to apply to the automaker - a gamble that paid off.

"That was the job that changed our family's lives, completely changed our lives," says Black, 36. "General Motors Canada is the reason why there's a Jully Black, hands down, bar none."

Black says it wasn't only the income from the manufacturing job, but also her mother's resolve, drive and ambition that served as inspiration.

"Witnessing my mom get up in the morning, go and do two shifts, the day shift and the night shift, at General Motors; still going to church, smiling."

With a handful of part time jobs as a teen, Black learned to drive on her sister MJ's hand-operated Chevy Cavalier - adapted to make driving easier due to her sister's physical disability. Black says it felt like playing a video game.

"I learned how to drive with my left hand controlling the gas and the brake and my right hand controlling the steering wheel," she recalls.

There was only one thing she needed to dial back when behind the wheel of a conventional car.

"They would call me heavy foot and lead foot because it was interesting pressing the gas and the brake with my foot," she admits.

It wasn't long after she learned to drive that her first car, dubbed Johnny, came along. With money earned from her job at Future Shop, Black bought a new, black Chevy Cavalier, quickly dubbed Johnny by her pals. Her mom's employee pricing helped make the car affordable.

"That car really, really, helped me travel a long road. It really did," Black says. "Beyond it being just a strong, quality car and an affordable first car, I was the one in my group of friends that actually had a car, so we could go and experience things."

Memorable trips to Wasaga Beach, Muskoka and visits to a friend at the University of Windsor took the 20-year-old out of the city and widened her experiences. It also helped with her college commute to King City. As a budding musician - she was signed to a songwriting label at 21 - the Cavalier also helped get her to gigs.

"It was a tour bus, it was a van; we squeezed a lot of instruments into that vehicle. It was a way, as an independent artist, to save money," she says. "We definitely used it to help with the dream - with the journey."

As her career soared, Black remained loyal to GM cars, and now drives a Cadillac SRX.

"It's just the best one," she says. "If you're calling me Canada's Queen of R&B, you might as well have something that feels that way. It's the top of the line but, really, one of my friends when I was going to purchase this vehicle, she said this is the vehicle that will take you into 40."

The luxury CUV also helps Black make the most of Toronto's gridlocked streets - from practicing her new repertoire of songs or tuning in the Joyce Meyer Ministries on the radio.

"If you're going to be stuck in your car, be comfortably stuck in your car," she says.

Credit: Yvonne Marton Special to the Star

Illustration

Caption: Jully Black credits much of her success to the positive example her mother set while raising nine children on her own and working at General Motors. Jully Black now drives a Cadillac SRX, similar to this 2013 model. Jully Black has posted her mom's GM employee card on her Facebook page. Toronto Star file photo Toronto star file photo

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