Jani Lauzon (Cree/Ojibwe/French) grew up in British Columbia’s East Kootenays where she inherited the cultural wealth of her parents’ Metis and Scandinavian ancestries. Her father was a pianist and painter, while her mother was a doll maker and mathematician. Her foster parents, both teachers and artistically inclined, nourished Jani’s propensity for drama and music. She became a skilled performer on the Western flute. Beginning her performing career in the late 1980s, she gave virtuosic, energetic performances performing on the Western flute, a variety of Native flutes and singing her own Blues-infused songs.
More recently she has developed the acting and writing side of her career while continuing to compose and perform music. Jani Lauzon is a Dora nominated actress, a three-time Juno nominated singer/songwriter, and the creator of several children’s television puppet characters. Known as Grannie on the Mr. Dress-up show, she has played Lili/Little Star on Little Star, Pa Foley on Big Comfy Couch, and Sasha on Prairie Berry Pie. In 2004 she won a Gemini for her role as Seeka in the series Wumpa’s World, the first Metis puppeteer to garner the award.
In 1999 she was a co-founder of Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, an organization devoted to presenting Indigenous stories. For that group she wrote the full length show The Scrubbing Project among others. Her play, On the Road to Freedom, was a hit at Weesagechak and through The Barker Fairley Distinguished Writer-in-Residence Fellowship at the University of Toronto, Lauzon further developed this creation.
Among the many plays she has directed were The Vagina Monologues for NATIVE EARTH and Waiora at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre. For The Monument she received the Toronto Theatre Critics Award of Best Director.
In 2008, she was nominated as Best Female Traditional Artist after the release of her CD, Mixed Blessings. Nominated six times as Best Actress for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, her numerous theatre performances include Diva Ojibway and Son of Avash at NATIVE EARTH, Almighty Voice and his Wife at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, and in 2012, the roles of Cordelia and the Fool in an all-Indigenous production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Television credits include Destiny Ridge and Conspiracy of Silence among many others.
In 2011, her first film, eu·tha·na·sia, was released and subsequently shown at many important festivals. In 2018, her film, Just One Word, had screenings in North America and Europe. The opera/theatrical work, I Call Myself Princess, for which Lauzon was writer and co-producer had its premiere at Native Earth Performing Arts, Toronto, in September, 2018. This work was inspired by and featured music from Shanewis: The Robin Woman. That opera about Tsianina Redfeather, was composed by Charles Wakefield Cadman, an American composer who was part of the early 1900s movement using Indigenous music to create a distinct North American musical identity. Lauzon has written:
“By today’s standard, Cadman’s opera would be considered sexist, racist and naïve, but it was popular culture of the times, and in many ways reflective of the changing landscape of Indian identity. Paralleling music and scenes from the opera with contemporary characters like William Morin and his boyfriend Alex Park, this play only begins to unravel the complex web of ‘Indian’ identity today.”
Blue Voice/New Voice (1994/2000) RA Records, distributor Indiepool
Hearts of the Nations (1997) The Banff Centre/Sweet Grass
Thirst (1998) RA Records, distributor Indiepool
Heartbeat 2: More Voices of First Nations Women (1998) Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40455
Tribal Fires: Contemporary Native American Music (1997), EarthBeat R2 72930
Mixed Blessings (2007)
Press – Critical Acclaim
John Valenteyn wrote for the Toronto Blues Society 1998:
Jani Lauzon’s New Voice/Blue Voice, her first album, was a most important release …(a JUNO nominee in 1994) and now Thirst again on RA Records, is a large step forward from that. The artistic development that has so clearly taken place has also led her away from blues on this album, with a couple of exceptions. …The blues and First Nations colours are still there on the palette but there are now many more. The album is built with almost orchestral colours and textures by Jani and producer/drummer Gary Taylor with autobiographical, sometimes deeply religious, lyrics by Jani and her collaborators.
…one of the vocal standouts is “Surabaya Johnny,” delivered with passion and power by Jani Lauzon as Yvette.
Connie Meng, North Country PublicRadio (Mother Courage; NAC/MTC)
… as the tempestuous camp follower Yvette Pottier, Lauzon is a skilled singer
Patrick Langston, The Ottawa Citizen. January 16, 2010
(Mother Courage; NAC/MTC)
Jani Lauzon, as the prostitute Yvette Pottier, delivers Mother Courage’s best musical performance (Kurt Weill’s Surabaya Johnny),
Jared Story Winnipeg UPTOWN (Mother Courage; NAC/MTC)
Lauzon, doing double duty, gives us a quirky, sharp-eyed Fool with a touch of the trickster including the alert ears of a fox or coyote as part of the costume. On opening night, Lauzon’s Fool netted plenty of laughs..
Patrick Langston, The Ottawa Citizen May 12, 2012
As the Fool, Jani Lauzon – who double as the gentle Cordelia – brings a manic trickster energy to the role that enlivens the storm scenes.
J. Kelly Nestruck The Globe and Mail May 13, 2012
Jani Lauzon was a stand-out as Cordelia.
Maja Stefanovska CapitalCriticsCircle May 2012
Jani Lauzon makes a gossiping neighbour and a high-strung servant distinct, often providing comic relief.
Review of Blood Wedding, NOW Magazine March 2015
In Her Own Words
Billie Holiday and the Jackson Five were my first musical influences followed by Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Irma Thomas, and even Inuit Throat Singers. … My Dad played a great jazz piano and my foster parents loved musical theatre. I am as much an actress as a musician and am a very spiritual person. Years of vocal training have allowed me the opportunity to float on the technique and FEEL the music. The performance becomes a state of being, which connects with the inexhaustible energy of the Creator. A musical style is developing that comes from all the wonderful, beautiful and different things that I am. …Somehow it’s all part of the same seed of creativity to me. It’s all just a part of the same circle [as I perform on the grandfather drum, the hand drum, the Western flute and the Native flute]