Daniel Grafton Hill IV, singer, songwriter, guitarist (born 3 June 1954 in Toronto, Ontario).
Dan Hill is a highly successful singer and songwriter, particularly in the adult contemporary genre. He achieved international stardom at age 23 with the hit single “Sometimes When We Touch” and has enjoyed a long career as a pop and country songwriter, amassing over 100 million in sales for his songs. Known for his plaintive voice and unabashedly sentimental lyrics, he has won five Junos, one Grammy, five SOCAN Awards for outstanding radio airplay in Canada, and six ASCAP Awards for airplay in the United States.
Dan Hill studied guitar and began writing songs in his teens, dropping out of high school at 17 to work as a songwriter for RCA. He began his performing career at The Riverboat in Toronto and, on the strength of his first album, Dan Hill (1975), and the single “You Make Me Want to Be,” he received a Juno Award in 1976 for Most Promising Male Vocalist.
The albums Hold On (1976) and Longer Fuse (1977) followed, the latter including “Sometimes When We Touch.” The song, which Hill began writing at age 19 and finished for the record with co-writer Barry Mann, was an international hit in 1977–78. It sold more than 1 million copies and was a No. 1 hit in Canada and 11 other countries. Hill received Junos in 1978 for Composer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Best-Selling Album for Longer Fuse, which sold more than 200,000 copies in Canada and 500,000 in the US.
He received a second Juno in 1979 as Best Composer, again for “Sometimes When We Touch.” The song was praised in Pamela Phillips Oland’s 2001 book The Art of Writing Great Lyrics. It has been translated into Swedish, Chinese, and Tagalog, played on radio and television more than 5 million times, and covered by Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tina Turner, Cleo Laine, Oscar Peterson, Ginette Reno, Donny Osmond, and others. It was a country hit in 1985 for Mark Gray and Tammy Wynette. Hill headlined concerts across Canada in the late 1970s and toured in the US in 1978–79, opening for Art Garfunkel and Phoebe Snow. In 1980 he appeared at the Tokyo Pop Song Festival and in Osaka, Japan.
Hill's earnest singing and openly sentimental ballads were the subject of derisive critical commentary in Canada during this period. In 1981 David R. Hayes expressed it more kindly than most: “His voice was achingly plaintive, wringing sincerity out of even the most maudlin lyric, parading vulnerability like a white flag above the battlefield of the sexes.” (In 2010, “Sometimes When We Touch” was listed at No. 40 on AOL Radio’s 100 Worst Songs Ever.) Hill's Frozen in the Night (1978) exceeded 100,000 in Canadian sales, but If Dreams Had Wings (1980), Partial Surrender (1981), and Love in the Shadows (1983) were met with dwindling success.
Hill recorded “It’s a Long Road” for the Sylvester Stallone movie First Blood (1982) and appeared on the 1985 benefit single “Tears Are Not Enough.” He maintained an intermittent concert schedule in Canada during the 1980s and began working frequently in Los Angeles as a songwriter early in the decade. His partners there have included Mann, John Capek, Doug James, and Michael Masser. He also collaborated in Toronto with his long-time pianist John Sheard, and approached his earlier success with his eighth album, Dan Hill (1987). It included the US hit “Can't We Try” (with Vonda Sheppard), as well as “Never Thought (I Could Love),” and resulted in a number of appearances on US television. Two albums followed in 1989: Real Love and The Dan Hill Collection, a compilation of his early hits.
Hill’s 11th album, Dance of Love (1991), marked another comeback with “I Fall All Over Again.” He then co-wrote and co-produced “Seduces Me” on Celine Dion’s Falling Into You album, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1996. Hill continued to perform and record his own material on Greatest Hits and More (1995) and I'm Doing Fine (1996). He also began working in Nashville in the mid-1990s, co-writing several songs which firmly established him as a successful songwriter in the country and adult contemporary categories. “I Do (Cherish You)” and “Love of My Life” each reached number one on the country charts, and the diverse appeal of his songwriting was demonstrated when R&B/pop group 98 Degrees also achieved a top hit with “I Do (Cherish You).”
Another greatest hits compilation, Love of My Life: The Best of Dan Hill, was released in 1999, marking 25 years as a songwriter. SOCAN presented him with its Classics award in 1996, the prestigious Wm. Harold Moon Award (bestowed upon Canadian songwriters for great international contributions) in 1997, and its Number 1 plaque in 2000. In 2007, Hill toured with the CBC Radio One program “The Vinyl Café,” and in the late 2000s he found a second career as a successful freelance writer and memoirist, contributing feature articles—often about his own experiences—to publications such as The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and Maclean’s. In 2010, he released Intimate, which included tracks that had been covered by other artists as well as newly written material.
Family and Personal Life
Hill’s father, Daniel Grafton Hill, was a director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the founder of the Ontario Black History Society, the ombudsman of Ontario, and an Officer of the Order of Canada. Hill wrote about his often difficult relationship with his father and how it affected his music career in the 2009 book I Am My Father's Son: A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness. He has also talked publicly about his son David’s involvement in Toronto gangs. His brother Lawrence Hill is the award-winning author of The Book of Negroes. His sister Karen Hill was an accomplished poet who died in March 2014.
Hill was a lifelong friend of the novelist Paul Quarrington. They performed as the folk music duo Quarrington/Hill beginning in their teens, and completed a song about death called “Are You Ready” just days before Quarrington’s death from lung cancer in early 2010. Hill was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall of 2011.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
1976 Juno Award for Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year
1978 Juno Award for Male Vocalist of the Year
1978 Juno Award for Composer of the Year
1978 Juno Award for Best Selling Album
1979 Juno Award for Composer of the Year
1996 Grammy Award for Album of the Year
1996 SOCAN Classics Award
1997 Wm. Harold Moon Award