TORONTO — The Juno Awards rolled into their golden celebration with a virtual ceremony packed full of historic wins.
Enigmatic superstar the Weeknd took home the most hardware Friday, picking up three awards including single of the year for “Blinding Lights” as well as contemporary R&B recording.
The Toronto singer, born Abel Tesfaye, completed the trifecta with a songwriter of the year award, though his presence was absent from the festivities.
Much of the night focused on the Junos making inroads towards better inclusivity and some musicians speaking out about the wounds left by Canada's residential school system.
The Junos Opening Night Awards, as they were billed, replaced the usual gala dinner that unites Canada's music industry over Junos weekend. It's where 37 of the Junos categories are handed out ahead of Sunday's broadcast on CBC-TV.
The 50th-anniversary show was hosted by CBC Music's Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe with pre-taped performances from R&B singer and rapper Tobi and country singers Lindsay Ell and Mackenzie Porter.
The winners were announced live with many of them appearing over webcam to accept their awards.
JJ Wilde became the first female winner for best rock album in 25 years with her breakout release "Ruthless." A woman hasn’t won the category since Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit "Jagged Little Pill."
Morissette swept through the ceremony herself, winning adult contemporary album of the year for "Such Pretty Forks in the Road."
Kaytranada marked another first becoming the only Black male solo winner for dance recording of the year since its creation in 1992. The Montrealer won for his album "Bubba."
Breakthrough group of the year went to Oshawa, Ont.-founded rock duo Crown Lands who used their 30 seconds of acceptance speech time to acknowledge the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School where the remains of 215 children were recently found.
They called for every residential school in Canada to be "thoroughly investigated."
"The families of those departed all deserve closure," said vocalist and drummer Cody Bowles, sitting alongside his bandmate Kevin Comeau.
"People are living in abhorrent conditions in this nation and there’s a lot more to talk about here. We’re going to keep fighting to start these conversations and hopefully spark some real change."
Crown Lands later performed "End of the Road," a song in tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Leela Gilday accepted Indigenous artist of the year in a tearful speech alongside her husband with her cheering family in the background.
"I'm so proud to stand here shoulder to shoulder with these people who tell our truths — who tell our hard truths, but also celebrate our resilience," she said of the people who worked on her album, "North Star Calling."
"All of the nominees and all of our people who make music: this is a time of reckoning."
WondaGurl made history as the first Black woman to win producer of the year for tracks with the late rapper Pop Smoke and the Travis Scott-led Jackboys.
The Scarborough, Ont.-raised producer, born Ebony Oshunrinde, is only the sixth female producer winner and the first to forge her name mainly at the soundboards. Past winners have all been known singers, k.d. lang, Nelly Furtado and Joni Mitchell among them.
Crystal Shawanda became the first Indigenous artist to win blues/gospel album for "Church House Blues."
Hamilton-based act Arkells scored their fourth win for group of the year, while July Talk’s “Pray for It” picked up alternative album.
The Junos originally hoped to make this year's 50th anniversary a splashy event at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena, but Ontario's COVID-19 restrictions put a damper on those ambitions. Instead, organizers announced they'll return to Toronto for next year's show.
Three new Juno categories were also announced for 2022: the award for Indigenous artist or group will be split into two prizes, one for contemporary Indigenous artist and another for traditional artist. Rap recording of the year will now break off into rap single of the year and rap album/EP of the year.
And a new category for club music will be named underground dance single of the year.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2021.
David Friend, The Canadian Press