Black Artist Maestro Fresh Wes Makes History As The First Hip-Hop Recipient Of The Governor General’s Performing Arts Award

Maestro Fresh Wes Named First Hip-Hop Recipient Of Governor General’s Performing Arts Award

For the first time in its history, the prestigious Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement is honoring a Canadian hip-hop artist.

The worthy recipient is legendary Toronto rapper and actor Maestro Fresh Wes (Wes Williams), who has been named as one of the five 2024 laureates for the award. This prestigious award recognizes Canadians who have made a lasting contribution to cultural life in Canada and internationally.

In a short acceptance speech, Williams expressed his excitement and gratitude, saying “I’m excited and thrilled to be getting this award. I must have done something right! I just want to say I appreciate being appreciated!”

Trailblazer In Canadian Hip-Hop

Maestro Fresh Wes released his debut album, Symphony in Effect in 1989, a landmark moment in early Canadian hip-hop history. Symphony in Effect was at the forefront of Canada’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, and its anthemic track “Let Your Backbone Slide” was the first Canadian rap record ever to chart on the Billboard Top 40.

In 2019, “Let Your Backbone Slide” became the first rap song to be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Over the course of his acclaimed career, Maestro Fresh Wes has not only established himself as a pioneering rapper, but has also successfully branched out into acting in film and television, as well as working as a motivational speaker. He recently received a Juno Award nomination in the children’s album category, for Maestro Fresh Wes Presents: Young Maestro Stick To Your Vision For Young Athletes.

Honoring Excellence In The Performing Arts

Maestro Fresh Wes is being honored alongside an esteemed group of fellow 2024 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award laureates, including:

  • Alberta-born puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2019.
  • Tony Award-winning American-Canadian comedic actor Andrea Martin, to be inducted this weekend into the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame with the cast of SCTV.
  • Montreal singer-songwriter/pianist Diane Juster, named as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2016.
  • Operettic soprano Measha Brueggergosman-Lee, a Fredericton native now based in Nova Scotia. She is the first Black artist to receive the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in the classical music field.

The 2024 GGPAA Gala takes place on June 8, at the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall in Ottawa, where all the laureates will be celebrated.

Continuing To Inspire The Next Generation

Maestro Fresh Wes has not only left an indelible mark on Canadian music and culture, but he has also dedicated himself to mentoring and inspiring the next generation of artists.

It was announced that the participants in the 2024 mentorship program will be Inuk singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark (a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award recipient in 2016) and her protégée Angela Amarualik, a musician from Nunavut.

Reflecting on the honor, Maestro Fresh Wes expressed, “It has always been important to me as an artist and trailblazer for Black music in Canada to symbolize longevity, perseverance and Canadian heritage, and I will continue to tell young upcoming artists, ‘Don’t make records, make history.’”