Dione Taylor hit pay dirt by turning the Black experience in Canada into what she calls “Prairie Blues.”
The Humber College music grad has received an Album of the Year nomination from Blues and Roots Radio for her album Spirits in the Water, a genre-bending project incorporating Americana, blues, folk and gospel, a sound she dubs Prairie Blues.
“What’s great about Prairie Blues is that I’m writing about my Black experiences,” Taylor said. “Coming from Regina and living in Toronto as a Black woman and having that experience.”
She’s also nominated for the Maple Blues Awards as New Artist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year. Taylor, a graduate of the college’s Jazz program, attributes her success to what she learned at Humber.
“It prepared me in a lot of ways, I got to work with some of the most amazing and influential artists that are on the jazz scene,” Taylor said.
When Taylor graduated she released her first jazz album Open Your Eyes in 2004, which was nominated for a Juno and featured contributions from college faculty such as Ted Quinlan.
Quinlan, a professional musician and former head of the Guitar Department at Humber, was tickled to be asked to work on the album.
“Dione and I are good friends,” Quinlan said. “Working with current and former students shows the connections that the program makes.”
Quinlan played on five tracks on Taylor’s album, providing acoustic guitar on the Brazillian inspired songs and electric guitar on the jazz songs.
“My favourite song would be the last song Angel’s Share. It was a duo with her and me, so, it gave her room to express herself,” Quinlan said.
Taylor worked with Joel Schwartz, a Humber Jazz program graduate, for the first time to produce Spirits in the Water.
“It was a really great experience,” Taylor said. “We would bounce ideas off each other. Sometimes I would have a lyric and Joel would have a guitar riff, and we’d work organically together to come up with these great songs.”
Schwartz, a music producer, attributes the jazz training as something fundamental to producing the album. Schwartz and Taylor’s relationship with jazz is what brought them together for Spirits in the Water.
“We drew on our jazz training for the album,” Schwartz said.
The album took three years to make and Schwartz noted that, as a producer, many moving parts led to its success. The nomination from Blues and Roots radio delighted Schwartz.
“It’s absolutely thrilling,” Schwartz said. “To hear it on the radio and know that people enjoyed it and were moved by it was great.”
Schwartz said he was proud of Taylor and the work she created.
“Dione is truly a unique artist,” said Schwartz. “It was a privilege for me to help and put out this excellent project.”
Quinlan also raved about how far Taylor has come as a musician in Canada’s music industry.
“Dione is a fantastic singer, I think she’s one of our brilliant Canadian artists. She’s as good as it gets,” Quinlan said.
Taylor is looking forward to hearing the winner announced on Dec. 24. In the meantime, she has kept busy teaching vocal lessons at Humber College.
“I’m really, really honoured to be named with so many amazing other artists as well,” she said.