By Nick Krewen

For The Record


DEBORAH COX got her one wish at a Lilith Fair stop in Cincinnati, Ohio last week: a chance to sing with some of the headliners.

"It was really a lot of fun," says Cox, rhyming off THE INDIGO GIRLS, THE PRETENDERS and SARAH McLACHLAN as the peers she joined on stage.

"I got to sing some of my favorite songs with other artists that I'll probably never get a chance to perform."

As the only mainstage entertainer making her mark on the urban R&B soul scene whenever she appears on the revolving Lilith lineup, the Toronto-born Cox admits she feels out of her element with the folk, rock, pop and country singers who complete the bill. When she performs this weekend at Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre, for instance, Cox will be sharing the stage with country queens THE DIXIE CHICKS, folk icons Indigo Girls, rocker SHERYL CROW and Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan.

And Cox, who joined Lilith Fair on August 10 in Cleveland and will perform 10 dates altogether, said she had reservations as to how people would react to her blend of soulful pop.

"I was a little nervous at first, because I wasn't sure how the audience would take to hearing my kind of music," admits Cox, 26, taking a breather between Lilith appearances to promote her latest album One Wish.

"After the first show I realized they're really open. We underestimate the fans and their musical intelligence. They're very, very open to hearing all kinds of music."

Which suits Deborah Cox just fine. The former jingle singer and CELINE DION back-up vocalist says she's been trying to "break down barriers" for years.

Despite the fact that her million-selling MONTELL JORDAN-penned ballad "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" set a new record for its 13-week run atop The Billboard R&B charts earlier this year, establishing her as the first Canadian singer to top those charts, the sultry black songwriting performer doesn't want to be pegged or pigeonholed.

"The term `R&B' is restricting for me," says Cox, sitting comfortably in a board room of her Canadian record company wearing mocha sweater, a tan leather skirt and a touch of makeup.

"I grew up in Canada. I grew up listening to everybody from DAN HIL to ARETHA. My mother had such a wide range of music in her collection, from calypso to African, and classical, so it's very limiting for me to be just labelled as an R&B artist. But I accept it because the color of my skin, unfortunately, has those types of labels attached to it.

"Part of my struggle, part of my fight to get out of the box is doing stuff like Lilith Fair, collaborating with Sarah, Sheryl Crow, The Pretenders and Indigo Girls, doing things so people will say, `Wow, I didn't know Deborah Cox could sing country.'

"I think the more that you put yourself out there and let people see you in different venues, the more they accept you. That's one of my goals... to be known as Deborah Cox and not have any labels attached."

Cox says that as a black singer living in Scarborough, she's lived with labels all her life.

"I started to break into singing commercial jingles, and I found that when they'd hear my voice, they'd be like, `Oh yeah, bring her in!'" Cox says of her potential employers.

"Then they would see me and it would be like they didn't know what to expect. I thought my voice was soulful enough that they would know.

Some people did know, and they would still be stand-offish once they would see that I was black.

"Then they would stop calling."

Like so many other Canadians, Cox and her songwriting partner LASCELLES STEPHENS had to travel south of the border to find a believer in their talents.

His name: CLIVE DAVIS, respected music industry veteran and president of New York-based Arista Records, label behind the success of WHITNEY HOUSTON, TAYLOR DAYNE, TONI BRAXTON -- and now Deborah Cox, who has sold millions of her self-titled and One Wish  albums in the U.S.

"Clive was a big part of the equation," Cox, who is currently based in Los Angeles, agrees. "I knew I had made the right decision in signing with Arista was when he said, `The songs you and Lascelles have written are great. I want these songs. But I need to get BABYFACE and I need to get DALLAS AUSTIN and I need to get KEITH THOMAS and all these major producers.'

"I said, `Okay! You want the big boys!' I totally respected his taking a chance on me, a new artist, with that calibre of musician. That's when I knew he was a true believer."

Deborah Cox has also been making a waves as a model at the center of a billboard campaign for Canadian clothier Roots. One memorable shot has Cox engaged in a mid-stream karate kick.

"I've never kickboxed in my life," she laughs. "I was pretending to be Jackie Chan at the end of long day's shoot."

She admits that the advertising career has been good for her career.

"It's opened up a lot of doors for me, because people see me not just as a singer, but as somebody that can be marketed in a whole different area, whether it's interest in make-up or acting.

"It's great exposure."


DEBORAH COX with Lilith Fair, also featuring Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chicks, Indigo Girls, Melky Sedeck, Emm Gryner, Bif Naked, K's Choice and others.






1996-- Deborah Cox

1998 -- One Wish


1998 -- "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" -- Billboard R&B

1999 -- "We Can't Be Friends" (with R.L.) -- Billboard R&B


1997 -- BeBe Winans

1998 -- Various Artists, Money Talks

1999 -- Dan Hill, Greatest Hits


1998 -- Juno, Best R&B/Soul Recording, "Thing Just Ain't The Same"


2000 -- Love Come Down


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©1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink