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Concordia students learn vocal chops from Canadian music luminary Kim Richardson

Why the Juno Award–winning jazz, soul and pop singer wants to pay it forward to the next generation
January 28, 2022
Pictured: Smiling Black woman, with very short hair, sitting in a chair and leaning back, with a black, sleeveless dress on.
Acclaimed jazz, soul and pop music singer Kim Richardson won the first of her three Juno Awards in 1985 when she was 19 years old. | All photos by Laurence Labat

Not everyone will recognize her name, but most have certainly heard her sing: Kim Richardson is one of Canada’s premiere singers and in-demand session and backing vocalists. She has performed alongside everyone from Céline Dion and Corey Hart to Barry White and Stevie Wonder.

The daughter of celebrated Canadian singer and actor Jackie Richardson, and now an eminent music industry figure in her own right, Kim Richardson also teaches one-on-one Private Study Jazz Vocal lessons through Concordia’s Department of Music.

“Last year a good friend of mine suggested I apply to replace esteemed vocal jazz teacher Madeleine Thériault, who was retiring,” says Richardson, who has been giving private vocal lessons since 2014.

“I had given some master classes at universities before, but nothing like this. My ‘audition’ was a one-on-one hour-long Zoom vocal lesson with a student. I was hired 20 minutes later.”

For the fall 2021 academic session, Richardson taught three students, and she is currently teaching two this term.

Richardson relates that she has one underlying message for all her students. “The main thing for me is not to get into your own head. There’s so much pressure to get things exactly right,” she says.

“For instance, after somebody sings a song once, I’ll ask them to sing it again. If they sing it the exact same way, what does that tell me about this person? Are they a technician thinking just about notes or somebody who may not be aware there is an emotional energy?” she adds.

“I always say, if you’re going to sing it, mean what you’re singing. You got to feel it yourself before anybody else feels it. It’s about emotion and creating a mood.”

‘I feel responsible to pass it on to the next generation’

And that advice comes from personal experience for Richardson, a three-time Juno Award winner. Her first single, “He’s My Lover,” won her a Juno in 1985 for Most Promising Female Vocalist when she was just 19 years old.

She also headlined her own solo show on the big outdoor stage at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 2007, performed as Motormouth Maybelle in the blockbuster French-language Montreal version of the Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray, and starred in Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts’ 2013 remount of the Broadway smash Ain’t Misbehavin’.

After performing the American and Canadian national anthems at the last-ever Montreal Expos home game at Olympic Stadium on September 29, 2004, Richardson now regularly sings the anthems at Canadiens and Alouettes home games. She also consistently sells out local venues in her adopted hometown of Montreal.

What it was like growing up in the showbiz shadow of her legendary mom? “I left Toronto for Montreal because if I was going to make it in this business, I had to have my own voice,” Richardson notes.

“People were always asking, ‘Does she sound like Jackie?’ There was a lot of pressure, and being in Montreal offered me the chance to establish my own style.”

The move did enable Richardson to succeed in her own right. “My mom always told me not to half-ass it, to stay true to yourself and stay humble — because there will always be someone else who can sing better than you, dance better than you and act better than you,” she says.

Richardson now teaches those same lessons at Concordia. And she continues to pay it forward, like the time she hired four backing vocalists for her Jazz Fest headliner concert.

“That was a wonderful experience, especially getting those four gals whom I had found from a vocal masterclass that I did at a CEGEP in Drummondville,” Richardson recounts.

“They killed it, and it was a very proud moment. To be honest, I feel responsible as an elder to pass it on to the next generation, so they have something to build on as they start out in their own careers.”

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