2010 allan slaight honour recipient
Not many kids can raise $5,000 for charity at their Sweet Sixteen party, but Nikki Yanofsky is not your average girl. A celebrated Canadian songbird by age 12, Yanofsky became a household name during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when she belted out a show-stopping rendition of “O Canada” and the Games’ theme song, “I Believe.” Now, Yanofsky is the winner of the first Allan Slaight Award, which recognizes a young Canadian making a positive impact in the fields of music, film literature, visual or performing arts, sports, innovation or philanthropy. Did she win for music or philanthropy? Both.
Fittingly, Yanofsky—who is an ambassador of both The Montreal Children’s Hospital and The Children’s Wish Foundation, as well as a supporter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—is donating the $10,000 prize money to Music Counts. “It’s a charity that puts instruments and music back in classrooms,” explains Yanofsky. “Music education is being cut across Canada. It’s horrible—we need that outlet. Music is a positive energy.” But back to other important matters, like what she’s going to wear to the awards ceremony. At the Olympics, Yanofsky turned heads in a red silk dress made especially for her by Dsquared. “I was so flattered,” says Yanofsky. “Dsquared added the dress to their collection and called it The Nikki! I just don’t know what I’ll wear to the Walk of Fame ceremony yet.” While she hasn’t given much thought to her dress, she has thought about meeting inductee David Clayton-Thomas. “I’m so excited,” she squeals, adding that Walk of Famer David Foster is another of her favourites. “I’ve had the honour of working with him.” Yanofsky’s list of accomplishments looks like that of a much older artist: playing Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and The Kennedy Center; touring with famed composer Marvin Hamlisch; performing with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra; and singing “Airmail Special” on the 2007 Verve compilation We All Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song, sharing disc space with Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Michael Bublé and Gladys Knight.
Yanofsky released a Juno Award-nominated tribute album, Ella…Of Thee I Swing and followed it this spring with Nikki, a bubbly mix of jazz, pop, blues, R&B and soul. It features her Ella Fitzgerald-inspired scat skills and a killer version of “Over the Rainbow.” She worked with Grammy-winning producer Phil Ramone, Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Jesse Harris (of Norah Jones fame) and Canadian music icon Ron Sexsmith. Yanofsky co-wrote six of the 14 tracks and intends to keep going in that direction. “I’m learning music theory and how to write charts so I can arrange,” she says. Yanofsky’s music tastes range from Lady Gaga, who she saw live in L.A. this summer, to her heroes Paul McCartney and Bonnie Raitt. Then there’s her love of the Broadway musicals Wicked and Rent.
Like most Grade 11 girls, she’s obsessed with Twilight—the books and movies. “Team Edward, all the way!” she cheered. “Robert Pattinson fulfills every expectation of how I envisioned him from the books.” If Yanofsky has a boyfriend, she isn’t telling, but she does relate her fashion fixations. “I have 24 pairs of Converse, and I live in my jeans!” For a minute there, she sounds like a regular teen whose life revolves around her favourite shows, her mobile phone and her friends. She just finds the extra time to record albums, perform with jazz legends and accept awards—that’s all.