Deborah Cox, singer, songwriter, actor (born 13 July 1974 in Toronto, ON). One of Canada’s top R&B artists, Deborah Cox is known for her powerful, soulful voice and sultry ballads. “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” from her second album, One Wish (1998), set a record as the longest-running No. 1 R&B single in the US, staying atop the Billboard R&B Singles chart for 14 weeks. She has had six top 20 Billboard R&B singles and 13 No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. She has received multiple Juno Awards and Grammy Award nominations and has appeared as an actor in film and television and on Broadway. In 2022, she became the first Black woman and only the second Black Canadian (after Oscar Peterson) to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Early Years and Career
Deborah Cox was born in Toronto to parents of Afro-Guyanese descent. (See African Canadians; Caribbean Canadians.) She grew up in a musical household in Scarborough and showed an early interest in music. Her formative influences included Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Whitney Houston, whom she has called her idol. She credits seeing Miles Davis live in the late 1980s and witnessing the intricacies of his music as a turning point in her career. At age 12, she began singing in TV commercials and entering talent competitions. In her early teens, she began writing songs and performed at nightclubs under the supervision of her mother.
Cox attended John XXIII Catholic Elementary School in Scarborough, Claude Watson School for the Arts and Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto. In high school, she met Lascelles Stephens, who later became her husband, songwriting partner, manager and producer.
After failing to land a deal with a Canadian record label, Cox moved to Los Angeles with Stephens in 1994 to further pursue her career. She became a backing vocalist for Céline Dion for six months and, while on tour, met renowned music producer Clive Davis. He agreed to produce Cox’s self-titled debut album.
Deborah Cox (1995)
A mix of pop and R&B material, Deborah Cox (1995) was released through Davis’s record label, Arista. Featuring collaborations with such high-profile figures as Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Daryl Simmons, it was certified platinum in Canada for sales of more than 100,000 copies and gold in the United States for sales of more than 500,000 copies. The album yielded the hit singles “Sentimental,” which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and “Who Do U Love,” which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart and No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1996, Cox won the Juno Award for Best R&B/Soul Recording and was nominated for Best Soul/R&B New Artist at the American Music Awards. In 1997, she was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year at the Juno Awards. Her song “Things Just Ain’t the Same,” featured in the film Money Talks (1997), won Best R&B/Soul Recording at the 1998 Junos, while the high-energy remix by Hex Hector reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart in 1997. The remix was also included on Cox’s second album.
One Wish (1998)
Cox’s sophomore album, One Wish (1998), launched her into superstardom. The smooth R&B ballad “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” earned Cox comparisons to her idol, Whitney Houston. It became a smash hit and set a new record for the longest running No. 1 R&B Single, staying atop the chart for 14 consecutive weeks. The single found success on the pop charts as well; it reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum in the United States. One Wish was certified gold in Canada and platinum in the US.
Other songs from the album also found success: “We Can’t Be Friends,” featuring the singer R.L., hit No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart; while “It’s Over Now” and “I Never Knew” both reached No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart. One Wish reached No. 14 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and won Best R&B/Soul Recording at the 1999 Juno Awards. Cox became the first Canadian to win a Soul Train Award, winning Best R&B/Soul Single for “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” and Best R&B/Soul Song of the Year at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, beating out Lauryn Hill and Janet Jackson. She was also nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Female Artist.
The Morning After (2002)
In 2002, Cox released her third studio album, which she co-produced, entitled The Morning After. Released through J Records, the album peaked at No. 7 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 38 on Billboard’s Hot 200 chart. “Absolutely Not,” a remix of the 2001 song that appeared in the movie Dr. Dolittle 2, as well as “Mr. Lonely” and “Play Your Part,” all topped the Dance Club Songs chart. “Absolutely Not” was nominated for a 2002 Juno Award for Best Dance Recording.
In 2003, Cox released Remixed, a collection of songs from her previous three albums redone as energetic pop songs. In 2004, she put out a greatest hits album entitled Ultimate Deborah Cox.
Destination Moon (2007)
In 2007, Cox released a tribute to jazz singer Dinah Washington entitled Destination Moon. Cox parted ways with Clive Davis and Sony Records for this album and released it through Decca Records, part of Universal Music. The album, which features Cox singing with a 40-piece orchestra, is a collection of jazz standards and covers of some of Washington’s biggest hits, including “Baby, You’ve Got What it Takes” and “What A Difference a Day Makes.” Destination Moon peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, and a Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. Also in 2007, Cox reimagined Chic’s 1978 hit “Everybody Dance” as the fast-paced dance song “Everybody Dance (Clap Your Hands),” which reached No. 17 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart.
The Promise (2008)
Cox and Stephens established their own label, Deco Recording Group, in 2008. That year, Cox was honoured with a star on the Scarborough Town Centre Walk of Fame.
Cox returned to R&B with her next album, The Promise (2008), released through Deco. It features collaborations with such songwriters and producers as John Legend and Shep Crawford. The album peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and was nominated for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year at the 2009 Juno Awards. The single “Beautiful U R” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart and No. 18 on the Billboard Canadian Top 100, and was certified a platinum digital download in Canada.
Cox’s sixth album, Work of Art, was scheduled to be issued in August 2015 but was never released. In September 2017, Cox’s single “Let the World Be Ours Tonight,” which had been released to coincide with Pride festivities in June, became her 13th No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart.
Collaborations and Music for Film
In 2000, Whitney Houston invited Cox to sing a duet with her on the song “Same Script, Different Cast” for Houston’s album Whitney: The Greatest Hits. It reached No. 14 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. That same year Cox and Stephens, along with songwriter Keith Andes, were nominated for a Genie Award for Best Original Song for their songs “29” and “Our Love” from Clement Virgo’s Love Come Down, which co-starred Cox in her feature film debut.
She also contributed the song “Nobody Cares” to the soundtrack of the film Hotel Rwanda (2004) and the song “Definition of Love” to Akeelah and The Bee (2006). In 2008, she contributed a new song, “This Gift,” to the movie Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns. The same year, Cox provided the songs “I Won’t Complain” and “Stand” for the movie A Good Man is Hard to Find.
Cox toured with legendary musician and producer David Foster on his Foster & Friends tour in 2009. In 2010, she sang three duets with famed classical singer Andrea Bocelli at the O2 Arena in London. In 2015, Cox provided all the Whitney Houston vocals, including for the mega-hit “I Will Always Love You,” to the Lifetime biopic Whitney.
Cox guest starred on the Nickelodeon sketch show All That in 1999 and guest starred in an episode of the CBS TV series Nash Bridges in 2000. Also that year, she made her film debut in Clement Virgo’s Genie Award-winning movie Love Come Down. In 2005, she played lead roles in the film Blood of a Champion and the musical comedy Love on Layaway. In 2008, she starred in the movie A Good Man is Hard to Find. In 2011, she was a judge on the CBC TV reality singing competition Cover Me Canada.
In 2004, Cox made her Broadway debut in the title role of Aida during its four-month run. In 2013, she starred as Lucy Harris in the revival of the original Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde, which toured North America for 25 weeks and ran on Broadway for 13 weeks. Cox received positive reviews for both performances; Entertainment Weekly called her performance in Jekyll & Hyde “quite terrific.”
In 2015, she co-hosted a free simulcast of the 2015 Tony Awards in Times Square and was cast as Josephine Baker in the off-Broadway musical Josephine, which premiered in 2016. She played Whitney Houston’s character in The Bodyguard in a musical based on the 1992 film, and was cast alongside Kathleen Turner in an off-Broadway play called Would You Still Love Me If…, which focused on transgender issues.
In 2021, Cox landed a costarring role on the BET series First Wives Club and a regular role on the HBO miniseries Station Eleven.
Cox has been involved with various charitable organizations and has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to numerous issues within LGBTQ communities, and to HIV/AIDS awareness (she has had three friends die of HIV/AIDS). In 2014, Cox performed at the 2014 WorldPride festival in Toronto. She has also credited the hard work of her family and her surrounding team who have helped her through her own struggles as inspiration for giving back to others.
Cox has worked with numerous other charities. In 2010, she performed at the third annual Broadway in South Africa concert, which supports arts education for under-privileged youth and for children whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2011, she performed at a fundraiser in Florida for the girls mentoring program Honey Shine, where the First Lady, Michelle Obama, was in attendance. She has also participated in public service announcements for Lifebeat, a music industry-affiliated organization that educates people about HIV.
In 2007, Cox received both the Civil Rights Award from the New York Senate and the California State Senate Award for her work in the fight for human rights and equality. In 2015, she received the OutMusic Pillar Award and was honoured at the Harvey Milk Foundation’s Diversity Honors Gala.
- Best R&B/Soul Recording (Deborah Cox) (1996)
- Best R&B/Soul Recording (“Things Just Ain’t the Same”) (1998)
- Best R&B/Soul Recording (“One Wish”) (1999)
- Inductee, Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2022)
- Best R&B/Soul Single (“Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here”), Soul Train Music Awards (1999)
- Best R&B/Soul Song of the Year (“Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here”), Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards (1999)
- Civil Rights Award, New York Senate (2007)
- Inductee, Scarborough Town Centre Walk of Fame (2008)
- California State Senate Award, Government of California (2014)
- Pillar Award, OutMusic (2015)
- Honoree, Harvey Milk Foundation’s Diversity Honors Gala (2015)