S.A.C. Black History Songwriters Series: Dan Hill

How does one describe the creative force driving Dan Hill? Nominated for a Grammy for Best Male Vocal, winner of a Grammy (as co-producer of “Seduces Me” on Celine Dion’s 30 plus million-selling “Falling Into You” album), winner of five Juno Awards and the Harold Moon Award (Canadian Lifetime Songwriting Achievement Award), Dan has recorded and released multiple gold and platinum albums.

Imagine this; you’re in your early twenties, you wrote and performed one of the biggest songs of the year. Not even Canada – big, but a monster seller in America, where artists would cover the song within a year and more cover versions would be released over the coming decades. To your father, you’ll never be Bruce Cockburn, and your success doesn’t mean much to the author and renowned Black Canadian civil rights activist. In about 30 years, you will come to terms with your relationship by releasing the record and the book “I Am My Father’s Son.” Bittersweet?

Dan Hill, best known for “Sometimes When We Touch,” grew up in one of Toronto’s inner suburbs, the son of American social activists and brother to two future authors. Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes) and his late sister Karen were both prominent Canadians, and Dan’s father Daniel G. Hill’s activism brought him to serve as the first full time Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1962. He married fellow civil rights campaigner Donna Bender in 1953, becoming one of Toronto’s first few mixed race couples. Needless to say, expectations were high when it came to the Hill children.

Born in 1954, Daniel Grafton Hill IV started playing guitar as a kid and was playing Yorkville coffeehouses while still a high school student. RCA Records signed him as a songwriter for a few years until Hill managed to leave RCA and release his first album on the Canadian GRT label in 1975. The eponymous debut yielded a Canadian hit, “You Make Me Want To Be.”

A couple of years later, Hill recorded a ballad he wrote at 17, when he felt insecure in a relationship with an older woman. “Sometimes When We Touch” was, of course, a massive success. It reached #3 in Billboard’s American charts, #1 in Canada and cover versions came quickly, from Tina Turner in 1978 and Cleo Laine in 1979, with many more versions to come.

Dan Hill went on to record more hits, including “It’s A Long Road” from Rambo’s debut, “First Blood” (recorded for the movie). “Can’t We Try?” was Billboard’s Adult Contemporary song of the year in 1987, and another big hit came the following year with “Never Thought (That I Could Love).”

Hill’s flair for composing epic songs led him to work with stars like Celine Dion (for which he won a Grammy). He has worked with many other modern hit-makers, such as Britney Spears, 98 Degrees, Michael Bolton and The Backstreet Boys.

Despite his five Junos, other awards and millions of records sold, Daniel Sr. seemed unimpressed with Dan’s achievements. After some success with country music, his father gave him grief for working in a racist genre. Rebelling against this, Hill described feeling indifferent about his own mixed race as a kid, and perhaps even postponing contemplation on this aspect of his identity, as a response to his always race-conscious father.
Oddly, Dan found himself in the throes of writer’s block in 2003 following the death of his father. He has described how sad times had previously inspired him to pick up a guitar and write, compounding the frustration of not composing.

In early 2009, Hill published I Am My Father’s Son; A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness. He has written for Macleans and elsewhere about other struggles in recent years; with his own son, the deaths of his father, mother, and sister, as well as prostate cancer, diagnosed shortly before a concert.

2010 saw the departure of lifelong friend and sometime musical collaborator Paul Quarrington. Hill also released his c.d. “Intimate” that year.

While he is best known for sweeping ballads, Hill’s folk / coffeehouse background led him to a variety of collaborations. He has worked with Nova Scotian Joe Sealy on “The Road” from the latter artist’s “Africville Suite” c.d.

Dan Hill keeps busy with performing (he was at Hugh’s Room in January) and he announced a deal with Ole (sic) Publishing in mid 2018. Hill also offers songwriting mentoring via Skype, if you contact him through his website, www.danhill.com.

Spotify Ep.5


Song: Sometimes When We Touch
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics written by: Dan Hill
Music written by: Mann

Song: I Am My Father’s Son
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics and music written by: Dan Hill

Song: You Make Me Want To Be
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics and music written by: Dan Hill

Song: I Fall All Over Again
Performed by: Dan Hill
Lyrics and music written by: Dan Hill

(Photo: www.danhill.com)

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