Who is Jessie Reyez? A look at Toronto’s soulful voice leading the Juno nominees

TORONTO — Jessie Reyez was once a Toronto Argonauts cheerleader and now she’s a four-time Juno Award nominee.

The soulful 26-year-old R&B singer with a biting edge captured attention on Tuesday for tying Arcade Fire with the most nominations at Canada’s biggest music celebration. She’s in the running for best R&B/soul recording, best music video, breakthrough artist of the year and the Juno Fan Choice award.

It’s another step towards mainstream popularity for Reyez who’s become a familiar voice on Canadian radio stations with the single “Figures” from her debut EP “Kiddo.”

Hardly a stranger to the hustle of the music industry, she’s built a reputation for a dogged dedication to getting her career off the ground.

Here’s five things to know about the audacious Juno contender:

FAMILY IS A BEDROCK: Reyez was born in Toronto to parents who immigrated from Colombia, but that doesn’t mean her cultural roots aren’t intact. The singer pays tribute to her family’s origins in the music video for “Great One,” which trails her as she visits their homeland. It’s a spiritual reflection created after the deaths of her uncle and a childhood friend. Reyez walks among the marked graves of locals while seemingly chasing the ghost of a child, and her journey winds up at a river where she’s baptized by some welcoming figures. ”This video has my everything in it,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “It has my roots. It speaks of family. It speaks of life and death. It speaks of God.”

IT’S ‘YESSIE’ NOT ‘JESSIE’: While she was born Jessica, she prefers people call her “Yessie,” eschewing the hard “J” sound. She says this is how her family says her name.

CHEER SQUAD: Reyez was a cheerleader for the Toronto Argonauts football team before she started pursuing music. Jorie Brown, her former cheer coach, remembers her as spunky performer with rough edges. “If you watch the old rehearsals, everyone’s in their shorts and half-top and Jessie’s in basketball shorts,” Brown said in a promotional video for the singer produced by Vevo.

CALVIN CONNECTION: Starting out with big dreams, Reyez pounded the pavement with a hard sell. She often tells the story of walking into the now defunct Toronto nightclub Guvernment and handing out her mixtape to DJs while they were performing a live set. One of those DJs turned out to be producer extraordinaire Calvin Harris, known for crafting hits with Katy Perry and Rihanna. Several years later, Reyez officially reunited with Harris for a collaboration on his 2017 album “Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1” called “Hard to Love.”

MEETING PERCHANCE: Reyez counts Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper among her pals. She made connections with him a few years ago through fellow rap artist King Louie, who was convinced they’d get along. After many conversations, they wound up working in a Chicago studio together and have been friends ever since. An Instagram video posted in late 2015 features Reyez jamming away on a cover of Chance the Rapper’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses” before he appears to silence her playing. “Stop,” he commands, before the two break into laughter. “That’s all folks,” he says jokingly to the camera.

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