Master T looks back at a lifetime in entertainment

by Ron Fanfair
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Master-T

 

 

By RON FANFAIR
In his early teens and an exceptional soccer player in England where he was born and raised by Jamaican parents who were part of the Windrush Generation in the early 1960s, Tony ‘Master T’ Young was on a high after receiving an invitation to try out with English Premier League team Leeds United juniors.
Imagine the reaction when mom decided she was bringing the 13-year-old and older brother, Basil Young, to Canada to start a new life.
Packing their suitcases with expectations that they would be welcomed with open arms in England turned out to be a pipe dream for Caribbean people flocking to the ‘mother country’ in the 1950s and 60s.
Greeted with signs on buildings reading ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’, the racism combined with the cold and dreary weather made life a living hell for most of them.
Tired of the bigotry and the struggle to find adequate housing, she and her two sons migrated 50 years ago to Kitchener where family members resided.
“I was vex, very upset and angry,” Young recalled. “I was playing soccer at a high level; the opportunity came up for me to try out with a top English club which was a very big deal back then and then my mom says, ‘we are going to Canada’.
It is not surprising that he was rebellious in the early days in his new environment.
“I was very frustrated, and I challenged everything,” Young said. “I didn’t want to stand up when the Canadian anthem was played in school. I just didn’t want to be here.”
To make matters worse, there were not too many people looking like him in the southeastern Ontario city.
“I really didn’t see myself being reflected there,” said Young. “I made friends with one Black guy who is now deceased and we kind of connected. But that took a minute because he was still caught up with the fact that he was Canadian, and he knew all the White folks which I didn’t.”
Children are full of potential and sometimes it takes a teacher to help them extract that valuable and precious gift. For Young, his English teacher was the difference maker.
“Mr. Armstrong recognized I was going through a challenging time in getting used to the country and everything,” he recounted.
Encouraged to do a jingle for a pupil running for student president, Young hit it out of the park.
“I did it in front of an audience at the school and everyone broke into laughter and loved it,” he said. “That made me feel nice and I felt I was on to something. My English teacher put me in school plays and skits, and I felt very natural and comfortable on stage.”
After completing post-secondary studies at Mohawk College, Young joined MTV – the multicultural independent station – as a videotape operator in 1981.
Things did not go well in his first media job.
“I had this Friday shift that ran from 5.30 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” Young said. “It was a ridiculous shift, and I was terrible. I was constantly late, and I messed up like crazy. The guy who was my supervisor and the head of operations there at the time had so much patience with me. He should have fired me at least 10 times.”
While at MTV, he became familiar with ‘Black World’ hosted by Dominican-born Daniel Caudeiron who was part of the Share FM team, that included Arnold Auguste, Robert Wood and NewCap Broadcasting that was seeking a radio station license.
Excited to see a Black show on Canadian television, Young reached out to the former ‘Share’ community newspaper entertainment writer.
“I phoned to let him know I wanted to help and contribute any way I can because that was the only Black TV show we had at the time,” he said. “I kept calling and calling without getting him. When I did, he asked why I kept calling.”
Reiterating he just wanted to pitch in and assist, Caudeiron acquiesced to Young’s request.
“He told me to go out and interview up-and-coming Black folks,” he said. “I told him I wanted to be behind the scenes, but Daniel insisted I go out and get stories. I did that for a few years and loved it.”
Young interviewed several young Black athletes and artistes, including 1984 Harry Jerome Award winner Kevin Pugh who was a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and Atlee Mahorn who won a gold medal in the 200-metre event at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
Through his older brother who was an editor at CityTV, he learned that a new station was on the horizon.
Using CityTV facilities, MuchMusic launched as a pay-tv channel on the last day of August 1984 with co-founder Moses Znaimer as president and executive producer.
Though he submitted an application, Young was hesitant about joining the new station as a video operator.
“My brother was there doing his thing and I didn’t want it to look as if I was following his footsteps,” he said. “I like to be independent.”
From a monetary point of view, the offer, however, was too good to refuse as his annual pay increased by $5,000 to $17,500.
To promote the new station, Young and fellow camera operator Gord McWatters created several station IDs, in-house commercials and a ‘Spy’ character played by Young who pitched Znaimer the idea of doing a short video to mark the station’s move from 99 Queen St. E. to 299 Queen St. W.
Znaimer liked it and provided a budget.
“I walked around with a ghetto blaster talking about MuchMusic,” said Young who was a stunt double in ‘Police Academy 3: Back in Training’. “We pulled together a few musicians and captured everything that was MuchMusic. My wife Paula (she was his girlfriend at the time) helped write the lyrics. Moses loved the production and it was put in rotation. He just liked the fact that you could work there and have multiple jobs.”
Shot mainly after hours in the spring and summer of 1987, ‘The MuchMusic Groove’ was one of Canada’s first hip hop music videos.
Young holds Znaimer in high esteem and rightly so.
Receptive to new ideas and with an open-door policy, the independent broadcasting pioneer provided opportunities for young people in the television and entertainment industry to develop and thrive.
“To this day, Moses will always be one of my mentors,” said Young who presented him with the Advancement of Minorities in the Entertainment Industry Achievement honour at the Reel Black Awards show in September 2001.
“He had so much insight on the media landscape way before a lot of other people. He also knew talent when he saw it. He recognized things in me that I didn’t know exist.
“He wanted me to be an on-air personality because he thought I would be able to connect with the community. He was right. I avoided it because I knew I would not be comfortable in that space. I wanted to be a producer.
“Moses gave me creative license and was always encouraging me to do things, saying ‘Just go out there, shake your locks’.”
While doing the first video for ‘The MuchMusic Groove’, Young acquired the moniker ‘Master T’.
“When I went to the people doing the graphics, they asked me my name,” he recalled. “I had never thought about that. I said what about MuchMaster T and they said that was too long. I said Master T and they liked it. I think some people had issues calling me Master, but that was it. I went to Baton Rouge to interview Master P and Snoop Dogg who made light of the fact that here is Master T from Canada interviewing Master P.”
With his wife’s support, Young created ‘X-Tendamix’ in 1990 that transitioned three years later into ‘Da Mix’ that aired on MuchMusic for 11 years and was one of the network’s highest rated shows.
“Michael Williams’ ‘Soul in the City’ was already airing on Saturday afternoon, but we also had this three-hour block on that day,” he said. “I put together a pilot before approaching Paula. We came up with the name. The idea was to hang these Black conscious T-shirts behind me, get a keyboard sampler and let Paula be this voice of Roxy.
“Creatively, I don’t know where all of this came from because I didn’t see anyone do it. All I knew was that I wanted this show to smell like me. I didn’t want to have a co-host and I did not want to work with anyone else. That was my interactive way of having someone to work with which was this keyboard sampler.
“Eventually, we recorded my wife’s voice as Roxy and submitted it into the keyboard sampler. We created and shot the pilot and Moses went for it.
“A few months later, the director of programming gave me the green light to have this show that was a hit right out of the box. Two weeks after it started, the head of sales approached me, and I didn’t know who he was. After identifying himself, he told me I would be receiving a sponsor. I said that is exciting and when I inquired who it was, he said Mars Bars.
“At the time, I did not quite understand what this deal meant. When I dug deeper, I found it was about $250,000. At that point, I realized that gave me some leverage as I was making the company big money. When I made it clear I just wanted to do X-Tendamix and not the camera, they said ‘sure’.
After nearly two decades producing and hosting quality music programs and covering the Conservative Party convention in Ottawa 31 years ago, Young – who the ‘Ottawa Citizen’ daily newspaper described as ‘The Koolest of kool kats’ in the headline of a story in its Arts & Entertainment section on July 5, 1993 – left MuchMusic in September 2001.
“They wanted to go for this younger demographic,” said Young who, with his older brother, travelled the world as cameraman/interviewer for MuchMusic. “I didn’t think my work was done, but in a way I felt it was coming to an end. I had interviewed Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill and Diddy about three or four times and had done all the big shows. I felt I needed a change.
“They were getting digital channels and I thought I was going to take over MuchVibe. That, however, was not really in the making since it was programmed as a video channel. They took what I did with ‘Da Mix’ and ‘Soul in the City’ to get the license and that was like a slap in my face. At around the same time, my wife told me I should prepare to move on as I was pushing myself too much. She was right. I was burnt out and I didn’t recognize it.”
Of all the celebrity interviews Young did, he considers the one he did with Hill shortly after the release of her solo debut album, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ in 1998, among his favourites.
“We had a real connection,” he said. “She understood me and I understood what she was going through. I brought a bunch of different magazines to the interview with her on some of the covers. As I am showing them to her, I looked at her and said ‘Lauryn’ before pausing and then adding ‘you are damn sexy’. She broke down laughing at me and then said, ‘I thought you were going to say I am in control of what I am doing. I let her know we already knew that. We had a level of comfort.”
Hill, who in 1999 was the first rapper to grace ‘Time’ magazine cover, performed at Young’s farewell show two years later.
He also interviewed Tupac days before his death in 1996 and Quincy Jones while the Grammy Legend Award winner was in Toronto in October 2001 to sign copies of his autobiography.
“Quincy was very relaxed and cool,” Young said. “My dad gave me a very high level of appreciation for jazz so interviewing someone like him was so iconic.”
It was the second time he had interviewed the music icon. The first was on October 3, 1995.
“I remember that date because it was the day that O.J. Simpson’s not-guilty verdict came down,” he said. “One of the questions I had was about the trial and the verdict and then the publisher came to me and said ‘Quincy is ready, but no questions about O.J.’ I was like ‘Oh, damn’.”
Married for 34 years, Young and his wife met in 1981 at a basement party while they were students at Kitchener Collegiate Institute.
“We were in the same Math class that I failed because I was just goofing around,” he said. “I came in, did the test and left after five minutes. She thought I was very smart. After my first year in college, I went back to Kitchener, and we connected. She tried to brush me off, but I assured her I had matured, and we eventually started to date.”
The couple produced and directed Sean Paul’s first documentary-style DVD released worldwide in 2004.
“She was not just a super fan,” Young said. “I consider her an extremely highly creative person. I don’t have the patience and creative knowledge for editing as she has.”
With 50 years of Hip-Hop music celebrated in Canada in 2023, Young shared some his thoughts on how the culture has evolved.
“I think the recognition is great,” he said. “I have always said you can’t shut down what the masses want. They continue to jump all over hip-hop. Yes, it came from the streets, but a lot of the guys managed to maneuver and become huge business moguls while understanding the game they were left out of.
“They have managed to control their own narrative and bring up others surrounding it.
“The 50 years is a celebration to also give the people that didn’t understand the music and the culture an understanding of what it really is.”
When it comes to Canadian women in hip-hop, Young bemoans the fact they have not received their fair dues.
“It is such a male-dominated industry,” he said. “It is incredible that we have a lot of female artistes who have managed to get their voices out, but it has been a struggle. It has taken so much for them to understand the game and their role. In cases where they have not been able to collaborate with male counterparts, they have done it by themselves. A lot of it has to do with the business world of hip-hop opening doors for these very talented women rappers.”
Young and his wife have two children. Kalif Young is a professional basketball player in Poland while younger brother Kyral is enrolled in Toronto Metropolitan University’s Creative Industries program. He also has a clothing line ‘Keepinit Young’.
“Kyral has managed to show his level of comfort being in front of a camera much more than pops at times,” said Young. “We are working with him to develop a show while continuing to maintain our connection to the Black community which I and my wife never take for granted.”
When Angela Young’s life was an emotional roller coaster after a divorce (Karl Young died in 1997), her youngest son found a way to lift her spirits.
“She was dealing with so much at the time,” he recalled. “I just wanted to cheer her up and make her laugh.”
With mom, who recorded most of his shows on VHS, watching as he left home for school, Young did Groucho Marx (considered one of America’s best comedians) and other comedic impressionisms. Little did he know at the time he was preparing for a career in entertainment.

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