Deane Cameron, Former EMI Music Canada President, Dies at 65

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The influential executive signed artists including Tom Cochrane, Anne Murray, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Nickelback.

Deane Cameron, who served for close to 25 years as president of EMI Music Canada and was a significant force in the shaping of Canadian music that hit the charts at home and around the world, has died. The president and CEO of The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto since 2015 was visiting his cottage at Eagle Lake in northern Ontario when he suffered a heart attack while walking in the woods. He was 65. 

News of Cameron's death spread like wildfire on social media, with friends and associates expressing shock over his sudden passing, remembering him as a kind, respectful and strong leader, a passionate music fan, a mentor to many and a prominent part of the industry for 40 years. Some had seen as recently as Monday at Roy Thomson Hall for a performance by comedian John Cleese.

Among the dozens of artists Cameron signed while helming EMI since 1988 were Tom Cochrane, his dear friend from school, as well as Anne MurrayBuffy Sainte-MarieGlass TigerStompin' Tom Connors, Rita MacNeil, The MoffattsHelixEconoline Crush, The Rankin Family, The Tea PartyMoistPrism, Susan Aglukark, Alfie Zappacosta, Luba, and, more recently, NickelbackSerena Ryderk-os and Johnny Reid.

Cameron started in music as a drummer, in a band called Harvest with Cochrane, and got a job in his teens working in the warehouse at EMI. From there, he took various music-related jobs, including product coordinator for independent music distributor GRT, which represented such international labels as Virgin, Island, ABC and Sire. 

In 1977, he returned to EMI as manager, talent acquisition, quickly rising to director and eventually vice-president. In 1988, he become the youngest Canadian president of a major music label.  

In earlier days, Cameron signed labels like Anthem, Aquarius and Nettwerk and in more recent times partnerships with Arts & Crafts, whose co-founder now leads Universal Music Canada, and CP Records, whose co-founder launched XO and manages The Weeknd.

A life-long champion of Canadian music, he helped many EMI signings break outside the country and secure distribution around the world, including associated label acts April Wine and Corey Hart. He did the same at home for international acts, often making Canada the first international territory they’d break. 

Over the years, Cameron built strong relationships with some of the world’s biggest artists, including ColdplayIron MaidenKate BushKeith UrbanSarah BrightmanNorah JonesBob SegerDamon Albarn of Gorillaz and BlurDuran DuranRichard MarxTina TurnerPet Shop Boys and Radiohead

He was also a longstanding supporter of the arts and culture of Indigneous communities in North America and was a strong advocate of anti-piracy initiatives and the revision of copyright laws.

In 2010, Cameron was honored for this work by the Governor General of Canada by being made a Member of the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest honors awarded to a citizen. On his award profile, Cameron is credited for having "championed Canadian musicians for decades” and called a "persistent and passionate executive in the recording industry."

A year later, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented him with the 2011 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award. He served on the CARAS board for 14 years.

"To be recognized by my peers for doing a job that I love so much is a great privilege,” Cameron said at the time in a press statement. “Canada continues to have a thriving music industry and a wealth of incredible new talent that keeps me just as excited to be a part of this industry today as I was when I first began. In accepting this honour, I take immense pride representing the EMI Music Canada family – including staff, artists and associated labels, who are the most important part of any success that I have enjoyed.”