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As with many people, Tom Jackson’s initial reaction — as the full ramifications of the COVID-19 became clear — was despair.
For those familiar with the singer-songwriter, activist, actor and philanthropist, it’s hardly surprising that this rare lapse in optimism was short-lived and quickly led to action.
“I was feeling so burdened,” says Jackson, in an interview from his Calgary home. “My heart hurt, everything was out-of-whack.
“I came to the realization that there were a lot of people out there who were just like that,” he says. “A lot of those are my musician friends. A lot of people who were communicating with me were telling me how desperate times were coming towards them.
“They had lost all their gigs and they had no way of recovering,” Jackson says. “This is an act of God, so with all of the contracts, there was no way to recoup any money.
“More importantly, I thought ‘How do you bring joy to those people?’ Then I thought ‘How do you bring joy to the world?’ How do you help people create health amid a time when they are trying to handle a disease. How do we make them happy? How do we help them leap, learn, laugh and love?”
“It started to warm up,” he adds. “It started to feel a whole lot better.”
Homebound like most of the world, Jackson began making calls from his Calgary base. (“It’s really like being on tour, except the house isn’t moving,” he jokes.)
He called Jeffrey Remedios, president of Universal Music Canada. He called Shelley Ambrose, executive director of Walrus Magazine. He called music publicist Eric Alper. He called Paul Dornian, CEO and president of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. He called musicians and entertainers from all over the country.
The result? On Sunday, the first of 12 hour-long episodes called Almighty Voices will be aired on YouTube and AlmightyVoices.ca. The series will allow viewers to directly donate to the Unison Benevolent Fund, a non-profit registered charity providing counselling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community. It is part of the Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief Project and Spotify will match donations made through Almighty Voices dollar for dollar up to a collective total of $10 million.
Hosted by Jackson, Episode 1 will feature singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark, Toronto duo Whitehorse, actress Cynthia Dale and former April Wine vocalist Myles Goodwyn. The performances will all be pre-recorded from the musicians’ homes. The show is expected to be ready to air at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
All musicians who appear on the series will be paid with funds from the non-profit Christmas & Winter Relief Association that Jackson founded with his wife, Alison.
When the initiative was announced on Thursday, confirmed participants also included Beverley Mahood, Sarah Slean, Chantale Kreviazuk, Measha Brueggergosman, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. But more have signed on since then, including renowned classical guitarist Liona Boyd, blues singer Terra Lightfoot and icon Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jackson said.
Jackson’s association has helped raise more than $230 million in funds and in-kind services to various charities and relief organizations over the years. Born on the One Arrow Reserve in Saskatchewan, the Cree artist has had a 30-year recording and performing career. He has also acted in the Alberta-shot series North of 60 and children’s program Shining Time Station. Recently, he had recurring roles in the dark crime drama Cardinal and the fantasy-drama Outlander. He’s also co-hosted the APTN series Red Earth Uncovered. And last year, he appeared opposite Liam Neeson as an Indigenous gangster in the darkly comedic action film Cold Pursuit.
Each year, Jackson also leads The Huron Carole tour, which he created 30 years ago with his wife to raise money for food banks and other charities.
Jackson says Almighty Voices will offer not only entertainment but will also “express kindness and explore essential ways to create health.” Part of this will involved dipping into the wisdom of Jackson’s elders, he says.
“We grew up with the transfer of knowledge through storytelling,” he says. “But the storytelling doesn’t have the same depth of soul if it’s at a fast pace. We are moving at a really fast pace these days and our heart races. When you move that fast, there’s a vacuum and we don’t know what gets lost in that vacuum. I’m going to confer with, and maybe gets some folks on camera, who I call Elders. I will get them to deliver a message and maybe do a bit of storytelling.”
Almighty Voices debuts Sunday, April 5 at 10 a.m. at AlmightyVoices.ca
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