Maestro Fresh Wes Honoured with Governor General’s Performing Arts Award

The Canadian rap pioneer is the first hip-hop artist to receive the accolade

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Mar 14, 2024

Canadian rap legend Maestro Fresh Wes has received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award, becoming the first hip-hop artist to be honoured.

In late February, the recording artist, actor, author and motivational speaker born Wesley Williams was named a 2024 recipient of the Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, which "recognizes artists for their outstanding body of work and enduring contribution to the performing arts in Canada."

Widely credited as the "Godfather of Canadian hip-hop," Williams broke out with 1989 album Symphony in Effect, featuring smash single "Let Your Backbone Slide." The album won the inaugural award for Rap Recording of the Year at the 1991 JUNO Awards, and would go on to become the first platinum-certified album by a Black Canadian artist.

Outside of his nine studio albums, Williams played the role of teacher and vice principal Paul Dwyer on CBC television program Mr. D for eight seasons between 2012-2018, and currently hosts the broadcaster's sand sculpture reality series Race Against the Tide. His acting has earned him a Gemini Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Role for his performance on the television series The Line.

Of the honour, the artist shared in a statement, "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.'"

Williams receives this year's Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award alongside Canadian soprano singer Measha Brueggergosman-Lee. All 2024 Governor General's Performing Arts Award laureates will be honoured at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on June 8.

Last year saw Maestro Fresh Wes celebrate hip-hop's 50th anniversary at the JUNO Awards, while Symphony in Effect was awarded the 2023 Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize.

This year, the artist will perform at the 2024 JUNO Awards, and will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

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