By Ife Olusegun
Posted on October 8, 2021
Canadian musicians we all know and love range from Shania Twain’s “Love Gets Me Every Time” to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, the classic Titanic film anthem. For those of a younger generation, some may be very familiar with Avril Lavigne’s “What the Hell,” or more recently Drake’s “Hotline Bling”. All of these artists are truly foundational to the Canadian music scene and are enjoyable classics. As a writer for Black Voice magazine, I was interested in writing about Influential Black Canadian musicians. Music and vocal arts are incredibly powerful ways to embrace one’s voice and amplify certain messages. There are many classic trailblazers of the Black Canadian art scene and more modern and contemporary Black Canadian musicians who are influencing the music scene in Canada today. We will discuss a few of these iconic artists today.
Portia White is a renowned Canadian musician who was an active musician from 1940 to 1968. Raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, White was a part of a family that can be seen as Black Canadian pioneers of their time. Her father, William White, was an educated pastor of Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, where White officially began her singing debut as a choir member. William White also ran a weekly radio fundraiser for the church, in which White also sang. White favoured singing gospel music and classical music. Winning a local singing competition was critical to her exposure as a nationwide and international singer. This feat led her to participate in multiple music festivals and competitions, and also enabled her to win multiple awards including Harvest Music Festival’s Silver Cups. She held shows and concerts in New York, Columbia, Central America and South America. By 1944, she was said to be the “First Black Canadian concert singer to achieve international fame.” Portia White is seen by many musicians as a role model and an inspiration. One of her final performances was held in 1964 for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip of England. In 2014, painter Hedley Rainey was commissioned to paint a portrait of White, which is now displayed at the Government House in Nova Scotia (as seen below).
Portia White by Hedley Rainey
Listen to Portia White’s music
Salome Bey, a beloved Toronto resident since 1966, was an incredibly influential American-born Canadian musician. Her vocal talent was featured in a band that she was a part of with her siblings, titled “Andy and the Bey sisters”. Bey also sang in numerous jazz club circuits such as the “Montreux Jazz Festival.” She appeared on shows on Broadway which garnered her multiple awards, including a Grammy award and a Dora Mavor Moore Award. In Canadian history, she is known as “Canada’s First Lady of the Blues.” Salome Bey seemed to be a relatively private person, which is shown in the lack of extensive information on her early life and her music career. However, that did not stop her name from being known and loved around the world.
Bey’s voice alone is a telltale sign of her success and fame: listen to a snippet.
Current contemporary Black Canadian artists and how to support them
It is not hard to find Black Canadian musicians in this day and age that are not part of the mass media circuit. Many Black Canadian musicians of our time are underground and do not make the headlines at the same level that Drake does. One simply has to be intentional about looking for these artists.
One of my favourite Black Canadian musicians goes by the stage name TOBi, a Nigerian-Canadian rapper who was recently signed by RBA Records. Naya Ali, based in Montreal, is an Ethiopian Canadian rapper who has made waves in the Canadian hip-hop scene. These two musicians, among others, were recognized by SiriusXM Black Canadian Music Awards and were celebrated for their styles and influence on music among Black-Canadian culture.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has carefully outlined different corporations who work with Black musicians all across Canada and has highlighted various ways in which anyone can support up-and-coming Black musicians. The most prominent way to support artists is on BandCamp. You can also show support by streaming their music on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Apple Music. So, if you love listening to Black music (R&B, hip-hop, rap, soul, gospel etc.), and are looking for a Canadian artist to support, look into the resources below—the options are unlimited!
Resources for further reading:
- 5 musicians recognized at inaugural SiriusXM Black Canadian Music Awards | CBC News
- How to support Black Canadian musicians right now | CBC Music