I’m shining a spotlight on Ebonnie Rowe because she deserves to be recognized for the 25 year legacy she has created for rising talent in the Canadian music industry.
We often celebrate the shiny new “unicorns” who are over-achievers in society now, but forget about the pioneers who taught them how to hustle. Ebonnie didn’t just lay the foundation for Canadian music stars of yesterday, she is still paving the way today. She has mentored generations of women, myself included.
While Ebonnie was studying at the University of Toronto, a friend of hers committed suicide. The loss was devastating; it made her realize the shortness of life, the silent despair suffered by many. This fueled her need to do something that meant something, and to leave a significant legacy. Determined to have a constructive influence on the lives of others, she left University to found and direct a mentorship program — Each One Teach One — which matched black youth with black professionals. At age 14, I became one of her mentees and we remain connected to this day. She recognized that the youth needed to see themselves succeeding in the places that they aspired to be in order to combat the negative stereotypes they were seeing of Black people portrayed in the media.
Hip Hop was the music that most of the youth in the programme listened to — some of which was rife with misogynist lyrics and imagery. In 1994, after complaints from her female Each One Teach One mentees, she produced a three-hour radio special on Canada’s longest and most popular hip hop show, DJ X’s “The Power Move Show” on CKLN, to discuss how women were portrayed in Hip Hop lyrics and videos. As a result, she was asked to edit an all-female edition of the now defunct Mic Check entertainment magazine.
The celebration party for that 1995 issue, intended to be a one-off show, was called “Honey Jam.” The success of the show pointed to a void in the artistic community for young women to be showcased. Ebonnie was then inspired to continue for a year and see how it went.
It’s been 25 years since Ebonnie Rowe launched Honey Jam, now Canada’s premier all-female artist development programme and showcase. The non-profit organization provides free promotional, mentoring, networking, educational and performance opportunities for upcoming female artists, as well as supports and promotes female entrepreneurs and women’s charities, such as YWCA Toronto’s programmes for women and girls. Featuring young female singers from all genres and cultural backgrounds from across Canada, famous alums include Grammy winners Nelly Furtado and Melanie Fiona, Juno award winners Jully Black and Kellylee Evans, and recent Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty, as well as feature film director Stella Meghie. In recent years, the Honey Jam brand has also expanded to Barbados, where Ebonnie has family roots.
The artists have had the opportunity to learn from local industry professionals and established international artists, including Erykah Badu, Estelle, Janelle Monae, and Jessie Reyez. They have been invited to Drake’s OVO Summit, performed at the CNE, attended Canadian Music week and Canada’s Walk of Fame, and to kick off their 25th milestone year in January 2020, one artist was given the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
Ebonnie continues this much needed work – year after year, decade after decade. She has used her knowledge of the music industry, her passion to create opportunities for women, and her influence in the business to open doors for others. Many of the talented young Canadian stars you see on social media, hear on the radio, and watch on TV owe a debt of gratitude to Ebonnie. She helped them launch here in Toronto through Honey Jam and its many offshoots, so they can take on the world. I’m shining this spotlight so that everyone knows the impact Ebonnie Rowe has made over 25 years, and how much she is appreciated.