From Bell Centre to Phi Centre

Sara Diamond is more than an opening act

Montreal’s 23-year-old Sara Diamond is used to singing in front of a crowd of more than 20,000, but on Nov. 29, all 300 eyes at the Phi Centre were there to see the R&B artist shine her own light.

Diamond is most known throughout the city as one of the Montreal Canadiens’ national anthem singers. She began performing the American national anthem throughout the 2013-14 Habs playoff season and has since been asked back regularly, having become a fan favourite. However, Diamond’s lengthy and complex career with music began years before she made her way to the Bell Centre.

“My mom started a label when she was pregnant. When I was 5 or 6, she started recording stuff and writing, and she was like ‘my daughter can sing! Produce her.’” said Diamond.

At 10 years old, Diamond began working with a vocal coach who helped her apply for a FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) grant, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to Canadian musicians. After getting accepted, a representative on the board of FACTOR told her that she was talented and that they wanted to manage her.

From a young age, Diamond had a lot of support from the people around her when it came to her future in music. Her manager then brought her to audition in Los Angeles for a girls group that was being formed by Interscope Records. Just four days after arriving in L.A., Diamond was signed and would go on to spend the next year and a half living in California with her mother. While the Clique Girlz group only lasted three months due to management and parental disputes, Diamond stuck around to see what the city had to offer her as a solo artist. However, her shyness, loneliness and lack of organization as a teenager prevented her from growing as an artist so she decided to leave L.A.

“I kept telling myself, ‘I wish I were home. I don’t want to be here,’” Diamond said. “It wasn’t the right time. By the end of it I was like ‘if I’m in L.A., I want to be famous. I don’t want be here. I’m homesick. I’m sad.’”

When Diamond returned to Montreal, she felt like her experience in L.A. had ruined singing for her, at least for the time being. She instead spent her teen years experiencing everything she had missed out on years before. “When I got home, I got to experience everything I wanted to do. The heartache, the love, the high school drama and all that stuff to write about,” Diamond said.

When she turned 19, Diamond was thrust back into music when offered the chance to audition to sing the national anthem for the Montreal Canadiens. At the age of 12, Diamond had sung for the Alouettes and always wanted to sing for the Habs. After auditioning and getting the gig, the singer performed the National Anthem during the playoff season. Once the season was over, Diamond was unsure whether she would be asked back.

“I guess because I wasn’t really doing anything music-wise, feeling that passion again from the Habs stuff kind of brought that back to me and I found that love again,” Diamond said. “I started working on music again. Just recording, and writing.”
Diamond began working with friends who also hoped to help her thrive in the Montreal music scene. However, she was initially rejected after applying for a FACTOR grant. Behind-the-scenes complications, along with more heartbreak, resulted in her aspirations falling apart.

Diamond described her journey with music as a lot of “almosts.” She once had a handshake deal with Universal Canada that almost went through, but management restructuring weeks later stopped them from taking on any new signees. It was not until Diamond recorded a song with Rebel House Records and the Montreal Children’s Hospital for P.K. Subban’s event that the pieces started coming back together again.

“Everything’s kind of happened super organically,” Diamond said. “Ever since I came back from L.A., there’s been this struggle between ‘I don’t want to do music, but something pulls me back towards it.’ It’s cool cause I’m really just riding the wave.”

And riding the wave seems to be what Diamond does best. After being accepted for a FACTOR grant last December, Sara Diamond released her first seven-track EP entitled Foreword. On Thursday night, the artist performed her biggest solo show in front of family, friends, and fans at the Phi Centre. It was clear the crowd had been waiting a long time to see Diamond in the spotlight after years of build-up in anticipation of the musician’s local debut.

Sara Diamond wows spectators at Phi Centre during Foreword’s Montreal debut. Photo by Jacob Carey.

After opening act Toito performed, Diamond hit the stage and sang all seven songs from Foreword. The artist also paid homage to her inspirations by performing covers of “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys and “Thinkin Bout You” by Frank Ocean. Diamond finished the night by singing “Ride,” a track that has yet to be released. The crowd was visibly wowed by her natural stage presence and her radiant smile that she frequently shone to fans.

Sara Diamond may have had a busy 2018, and 2019 shows no signs of slowing down. Her single with Montreal electronic duo Adventure Club, “Follow Me,” was released last week. She just debuted her music video for “Know My Name” on Billboard, and Diamond just finished opening for Tyler Shaw in Montreal and Quebec City. Next week, she’ll be premiering new music. And, she promises more to come in the New Year.

“I think it’s just the beginning, I hope,” Diamond said. “It’s like part two—the next chapter.”

Feature photo by Jacob Carey.

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