I’m thrilled to introduce you to the new EP from the oh-so-talented BILLY NEWTON-DAVIS, recording artist, cabaret entertainer and all round musical bon vivant! The brand new jazz EP “HAVE WE MET?” from the four-time Juno winning vocalist who’s worked with Gloria Gaynor, Sammy Davis Jr., Céline Dion, The Nylons, MelleeFresh, Boomtang Boys, Nino Anthony and deadmau5 is available now from your favourite streaming platforms or directly from Billy’s website: www.billynewtondavismusic.com
This brand new jazz EP from the four-time Juno winning vocalist who’s worked with Gloria Gaynor, Sammy Davis Jr., Céline Dion, The Nylons, MelleeFresh, Boomtang Boys, Nino Anthony and deadmau5, offers a juicy jazzy, bluesy, gospelicious vibe. “Have We Met” features some of Billy’s favourite classics from the great American songbook. The EP features Juno-winner Mike Downes on bass (and arrangements), Stu Harrison on piano, Ben Ball on drums and was recorded & mixed by Brad Nelson at Cylinder Sound, live-off-the-floor.
I met the incomparable showman nearly 4 decades ago when we were both young and full of showbiz promise – Billy came into the restaurant where I was working (back then, everyone was an actor/waiter so…) and throughout his dinner, he shared stories with me about his moving to Toronto to make a name for himself, work with the big stars, sing, dance….everything. I think I fell a little in love with this joyous ball of energy sitting in my section, and over the years, I’ve proudly followed his rise to fame. Both his dedication to his craft and strong work-ethic have earned him the respect of fellow musicians and artists, and after listening to his latest EP, I thought I should let him tell his story here to my readers. I got the chance to reach out to Billy and ask him a few questions about his career and this new musical offering in the time of Covid.Billy, congratulations on your new EP “Have We Met?” that’s now available on all streaming platforms or directly from you, via your website. The songs are all classics to which you’ve added your own super cool vibe – how hard was it to whittle down your extensive song catalogue to these five songs? It was not easy. I love beautiful songs and I chose each of them for the feel or story of the song, or if I had personally had that same experience. I wanted to integrate my own understanding into each song. I also want to sing these songs every night and love doing them…every night!
You’ve enjoyed a lot of media attention for the EP – how gratifying is it to know that the media as well as the public appreciate this gift of music during such a depressing time? It gives me great joy! I love what I do and I’m always happy when people are smiling… especially for the love of songs!
In the late 70s, you worked in several hit shows on Broadway, including Stop the World with the incomparable Sammy Davis Jr, arguably one of the greatest entertainers of all time (he sang, danced, played multiple instruments and acted). Did you pick up any nuggets of stage craft or advice from the great man? Yes I did – Sammy helped me find my confidence and the fact that I really wanted to be there. It was all about being present and never ever letting anyone know that you’re not there… people pay their hard-earned money for a performance so you always give 100% for every show and nothing less. Who were your early influences or inspirations in music and/or theatre? Oh, Glenda, there were so many. When I was very young, my Dad played lots of music around our house so I was surrounded by all sorts of sounds and singers. My first solo was in church in Cleveland at age 5. My parents owned a great record store in the neighborhood, the “Golden Voice Record Shop” in Cleveland, where I used to hangout during my high school years. Thanks to to the store, my parents were able to pay for my university education and I graduated Ohio U. before moving to NYC to take my place in “show biz”. Aretha was always a great inspiration; I love her because she learned from the great Mahalia Jackson [her life story is soon to be a major motion picture], Clara Ward, Billie, Ella, and Sarah Vaughan, I’m sure. Sammy Davis Jr. was my inspiration to be a showman….but I still listen to Aretha! And much like Aretha, my mother was a strong successful woman and was one of the first African-American women to own her own business (Glamour World) in Shaker Heights. I have been surrounded by inspiration all my life.You made an immediate impact on Canada’s music scene when you moved to Toronto in 1980, winning multiple Juno awards (your first album, Love Is a Contact Sport, was awarded the Juno for best R&B/Soul recording and another for Most Promising Male Vocalist) and you were also in great demand for vocal collaborations with artists as diverse as Celine Dion and deadmou5 (both Juno award winning recordings) before touring with the legendary Nylons in the early 90s. Do you consider the 80s one of Canada’s “golden eras” for popular music? Yes indeed – the 80s were an incredible time in Canadian music. And the different genres of Black Music became recognized. Reggae was also very prominent, but then R&B rose in popularity and now the popularity of Drake, Jully Black, and the Wknd have arrived and taken over the pop world. Makes me very proud to have been part of that journey.Obviously performing at corporate gigs and concerts or touring is off the table until the pandemic is under control, so have you created or participated in any online concerts or have plans to do so? I’ve been very fortunate to have been invited to do lots of virtual performances. I recently did The 519 Gala for the 519 Community Centre in downtown Toronto. I performed at a wonderful gala for the Rainbow Railroad charity where we raise money for them to protect LGBTQI individuals and enable them to live in freedom and safety in their own country. And this past Christmas, I appeared in the LOFT Community Services Christmas Concert where we raised upwards of $100,000.00 for street kids, the homeless, the mentally challenged and the elderly here in Toronto. It was such a great cause and it made my Christmas.
And finally, Billy, I have to ask: when you and I first met, I was waitressing in between acting gigs at Toronto’s legendary late-night bistro, Bemelmen’s, when you came in and sat in my section. You proudly and excitedly showed me blueprints for a new home – did that ever come to fruition? (By the way, I knew you would become a big star – you had so much energy, it was unmistakable). There was a house – it was in the Queen St W area – but I met a wonderful guy and moved into his condo. We got rid of that and now have a cool New York style apartment. I’m very grateful for all the gifts the universe has given me and I celebrate life on a daily basis, even through COVID-19 which has given me new focus – I was recently in the studio recording more new songs. I’m still writing for the next album and making plans for new live performances when we can all come together again. Thank you, Billy, and I’m so pleased you still find so much joy in singing and performing, even under such confined conditions during the pandemic. Hopefully by summer, we’ll all be able to attend concerts where we can sing along with you once again.
If you’d like to learn more about Billy Newton-Davis and his music, visit his website: www.billynewtondavismusic.com and follow him on social media. And thank you for supporting Canadian artists!
Bottom 2 photos courtesy of Xander.