Gregory Charles has performed at the Bell Centre 43 times – his ticket sales are second only to Céline Dion and ahead of Bono and U2. His 2006 album I Think of You was a huge hit, selling more copies than any other Canadian recording artist that year; with the exception of Nelly Furdato.

A long-time favourite in Francophone Quebec, even he was amazed at the album’s success; “Imagine this – we sold half a million copies of an English album in to French Quebec!” Perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised… Gregory posses an immense musical talent; and also gives generously of his time and organizational skills in an effort to help people less fortunate. Fans appreciate him on two levels; as an entertainer and also as a favourite son. – a son who always makes time for his family – all seven million of them…

I recently met with Gregory at his industrial loft office in St. Henri. It’s an immense space that is the focal point of his entertainment companies and the Gregory Foundation. “We’ve got it all happening right here; record label, Foundation, school, production company (for plays, revues, the choir festival and my own shows), and corporate event company.” I would soon discover that in addition to being blessed with musical talent – he also has a superb intellect. He is quick to acknowledge his gift; “Whether it comes from God or my parents’ (maybe both!) – its there. The rest of the story is up to me – I have a responsibility to develop the gift I’ve received.”

Gregory is from a mixed marriage, his Dad coming to Canada from Trinidad, and meeting his French-Canadian mother from Drummondville. “They met at a dance hall not far from here in Point St. Charles.
It was a love of music that brought them together, and I grew up with music in the house.”

It was also a household where both parents placed a high value on education. In particular, Gregory’s mother always stressed the discovery part of learning, making it fun and open; unlike the regimentation common to so many classrooms.

A child prodigy, Gregory won a national piano competition at age 7; and then went n to perform with Canada’s major symphony orchestras, as well as . At age 11, he represented Canada at the 1979 international piano competition in Paris, and also competed in festivals in New York City and Mexico.

Gregory’s initiation into choral singing started with the Petit-Chanteurs de Mont-Royal. It quickly became apparent that he was a talented vocalist, in addition to his skills as a pianist. His choirmaster suggested that the talented 16 year-old Gregory tutor members of Laval youth choir. The story is that Gregory declined; the choirmaster said; “Good – I’ll tell them you’ll be there.” Twenty years later, Gregory and some of the original members are still singing together. His interest in choral singing eventually led to him establishing an annual international choral competition in Laval, Le Mondial Choral Loto-Quebec. Started in 2005, the event is now the largest choral competition in North America, with 12,000 participants playing to audiences of over 500,000 per year. The choirs sing everywhere; in concert halls, in small theatres, parks and churches. Quite literally, there’s music in the air.

An excellent student, Gregory enrolled in law school in 1989 and obtained his degree in 2001. He has a strong belief in the liberating and enabling effects of education. “Fifty percent of dropouts were good students before they left school,” he noted during our conversation. “A huge percentage end up in jail or prison, so it follows that if we can keep kids in school, we’re going to lower crime rates, reduce social costs and have less financial drain on the government. Simply by encouraging and keeping kids in school” Putting action to his words, for 10 years Gregory tutored dropouts at a Community centre in St. Henri.

After graduating, Gregory continued to develop as a multi-faceted entertainer and media personality. Even while attending law school – he appeared in the television series Chambres en ville. In 1991, he went on to host a daily radio show on CKOI, the powerhouse French-language station in Montreal. He began hosting a television game show in 1992 and continued for 5 years. In a departure from music, he hosted a popular television science program on Radio-Canada from1989 to 2002.

In 1998, Gregory honed his skills as a popular music performer, working with one of the world’s leading performers, Céline Dion, performing as a back-up singer and pianist.

Gregory’s break-through as a solo performer came when he staged Black and White, a show that he took across Canada and for an extended run at The Beacon Theatre in New York. In addition to showcasing his formidable talents as a singer and musician, the show had a section where Gregory invited song requests from the audience. Regardless of how obscure the title, he was able to sing and play the song request on the piano. Audiences loved it – including the intimacy that it brought to large auditoriums. However, his performing career progress stalled somewhat after the tour; in part due to s serious injury suffered when he fell off the stage at the Bell Centre. The accident required surgical repair of his elbow, and for awhile there was concern that his piano playing days were over. Still – there was a loss of momentum; “I think we were mesmerized by the success of that tour – and we didn’t follow up the way we should have.”

It wasn’t that he was sitting around reading press clippings. After the successful Black and White tour, he released his first album, Gospel Live Noir et Blanc in 2004. In 2005 he launched Le Mondial Choral. While recovering from his surgery Gregory composed the songs that would be featured on his next album. In 2006 he released the smash hit CD, I Think of You that was certified platinum – twice – in Canada. Gregory began hosting a weekly radio program In The Key of Charles for CBC in the fall of 2007, which continued for two years.

While his musical career continued to unfold, Gregory never lost his passion to promote education. He sponsors a 5 week summer music camp for children aged 8 – 14. Campers study dance, singing, music history and learn to play musical instruments. Gregory offers this simple explanation for his fervent belief in education; “There’s an African saying that says; If you can walk – you should run. If you know – then teach.”
The Gregory Foundation provides assistance to youth who have a desire to make something more of their lives. “We’ll help them do whatever they want, study engineering, become a performer – you name it. We’ll help with financial backing and mentoring to help them turn a dream into a reality.”

Almost as an afterthought, Gregory mentions that his Foundation has established a Volunteer Registry throughout Quebec. “With the past dominance of the Church in community affairs, there isn’t a history of volunteerism in the French-speaking community as there is in the English community. We’ve set up an on-line registry, and we link people to organizations in the same community who need volunteers. All that we ask is that people commit to one hour per week.”

Despite the enormous satisfaction gained from helping others, the desire to re-launch his performing career grew more intense. “I needed to find a way to start over.” Working with Just For Laughs as the promoter, Gregory produced a show at L’Astral, the newly opened intimate performance club in Maison du Jazz.

“The Just For Laughs team were terrific, they were able to get producers and booking agents from Chicago, New York, London and Scotland to come and see our show.” Gregory delivered the goods during his high-energy marathon performances during the 2009 Just For Laughs Festival. The requests for performance dates and tour options are now coming in.

“My passion for music is even stronger now. There are those magical moments on stage when you have a direct connection to your audience. At moments like that, I can see the connection in a woman’s eyes, in her expression. Sometimes there are tears… It’s as if she’s thinking that it can be perfect again. All the mistakes and trials are washed away. It’s a wonderful experience when that happens.”

Following the success of the L’Astral showcase, Gregory is performing for two months in Paris at the 900 seat Théâtre Déjazet. Upon his return to Montreal, he’ll open his new show – Musicman – at Théâtre St Denis on November 24th until December 13th.

As this article neared completion, I received an enthusiastic note from Geneviève Dutil in Gregory’s office; “Greg has just completed his opening night performance in Paris – and it was a blast! He knocked them out – they loved him!”

Gregory Charles the performer is off and running again. But we know that Gregory Charles the educator, the philanthropist and mentor is not far behind. Bravo!

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