Deborah Cox Spreads Canadian Kindness In America

After nearly three decades of living in America, singer Deborah Cox still craves a few things from her native Canada.

“Harvey’s,” she said, “and Glosettes.”

The R&B star will be able to devour plenty of flame-broiled burgers and fill her luggage with chocolate-coated peanuts or raisins when she comes home to accept the Luminary Award at the University of West Indies Toronto Benefit Gala on April 6.

The annual honour goes to someone of Caribbean heritage who has made an outstanding achievement on an international scale. Past recipients include Shaggy and Harry Belafonte.

The daughter of Afro-Guyanese parents, Cox said the award is special because “it’s coming from the Caribbean community, it’s coming from home.”

She added: “I’ve been this hamster on the wheel constantly going, going, going and not all the time I get a chance to let it resonate, all the things that have happened over the years.

“It feels really good. Because you know that the work that you’re doing is making an impact.”

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Cox’s parents split up when she was young so she didn’t know her biological father. “It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I went to finally visit him [in Guyana],” she recalled, “and that is when I got more connected to that side of the family.

“I really felt this longing to want to know more about my background. I’d hear it from my mother when she’d speak about herself growing up and what she went through but it really gave me an opportunity to connect and meet him and just see where I came from. It was a real connection to go back.”

Her first visit would also be her last, as her father died a few years later.

“One thing I took away from the trip was just how determined Caribbean people are. It doesn’t matter what island they come from, they just make the best of what they have and work with what they’ve got,” said Cox.

“I essentially kept that same determination being a Canadian living in the U.S. I have the same drive, the same determination to make a wave, not just for myself and my husband but for my kids now. I’ve been able to be an example and set the example for them.”

Cox has released five albums since 1995 and has earned several Juno Awards. She had a Top 10 hit in Canada with “Beautiful U R” and enjoyed global success in 1998 with “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here.”

The singer has also starred in stage musicals like Aida, The Bodyguard and Jekyll and Hyde.

Cox said she is back in the studio. “I am working on new music,” she teased. “I’m definitely going to come out with a single, if not an EP. I’m hoping to get it done by the summer.”

Cox told iHeartRadio.ca that despite living for eight years in L.A. and the past 20 years in Miami, she remains Canadian at heart.

“It’s still a big part of who I am. The integrity that us Canadians have, that has never left,” she explained. “I’ve been offered things for money and I’ve been offered things that I just completely said no to because it was against my principles. I believe that’s wholeheartedly the Canadian in me.”

Cox, who returns to Canada regularly to visit her mother and other family members, said being Canadian is a blessing.

“I’ve taken away the good and I’ve tried to live my life with those good values and morals in America,” she said, admitting it’s increasingly a challenge in the current political climate.

“I’m still raising a black son here in America and there’s a whole other dialogue that goes with that,” said Cox. "It’s been quite the learning experience but I really truly feel that the Canadian in me always wants to represent good morals, good values, and that's just in my DNA.”

Part of being a good person is stepping up as an ally to the LGBT community. Cox has been a fixture at Pride celebrations over the years, including those in Montreal and Toronto. She knows it’s a community that few artists of Caribbean descent have embraced.

“On a lot of the islands it’s a shameful thing. They’re still very rigid and not progressive,” Cox said. “I just don’t think that’s acting out of love at all. I grew up as a Christian, I grew up as a spiritual person, I never went crazy overboard with judgement – but I’ve always believed that love is love and who you love is who you love.

“I remember my mother telling me she went to a civil ceremony with two women, when I was 12 or 13, and that was just unheard of. Canada’s always been so progressive in that sense.”

Cox spreads love and acceptance on Twitter and Instagram. She laughed when asked if it’s hard to keep sharing messages of positivity in a sea of hate and negativity. 

“Some of the messages are programmed, so whether I’m feeling good or not, I feel like it’s part of my duty, it’s part of who I am innately to put out good in the world whether I’m actually feeling good or not," she said.

“I’ve learned that action is what stimulates and perpetuates positivity. Whatever your silo is, if you continue to move forward you get through it, and that’s been my mantra over the years."