Music has always been important to me. I trained and worked as a professional musician for several years before finding my way into the natural next step of my career, executive recruitment (that was meant to be funny). I shared these posts in part because of my love for music of all kinds and in part because the contributions of Canadian musicians, especially Canadian musicians of colour, are often overlooked. So, in honour of Black History Month, I’ve highlighted some of Canada’s famous Black musicians, from the past and the present.
First, Archie Alleyne, the Toronto drummer, “best known as a drummer for influential jazz musicians such as Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, he was also prominent as a recording artist on his own and with Canadian jazz musicians such as Oliver Jones, Cy McLean and Brian Browne.” In 2003, he established the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund (AASF) a not-for-profit organization to recognize and encourage academic excellence in jazz studies. He received the highest civilian recognition in the country, as a Member of the Order of Canada (2011) and was also awarded the 2015 Harry Jerome Lifetime Achievement Award.
BOBBY TAYLOR AND THE VANCOUVER’S
Bobby Taylor and the Vancouver’s. The group’s single “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” written by band members Tommy Baird and Tommy Chong, was released in late 1967 with Diana Ross and the Supremes recorded the song in 1968. (And yes, this is the same Tommy Chong that went on to a career in comedy with Cheech Marin.) Most notably, in July of 1968, The Jackson 5 opened for Bobby Taylor and the Vancouver’s in Chicago. Taylor was so impressed with the group, he took them to the Motown offices in Detroit and arranged for them to audition. The Jackson 5 were signed to Motown records within a year and Taylor served as a producer on The Jackson 5’s first studio album, “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5.”
Next is Dan Hill, singer/songwriter/lyricist. In 1977, Dan Hill’s hit song, “Sometimes When We Touch” hit number 1 on the Canadian Billboard charts, number 3 in the U.S. and number 13 in the U.K. 10 years later, his duet with Vonda Shepard “Can’t We Try” hit number 2 in Canada and number 6 in the U.S. In 1996, Hill received a Grammy for co-producing Celine Dion’s album “Falling Into You” and in 2021, Dan Hill was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Meet Canadian soprano, Measha Brueggergosman. Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Measha is a descendant of slaves who escaped the U.S. during the American Revolution. She has performed extensively throughout Canada, the U.S., and internationally and appears in the documentary series, “Songs of Freedom.” In 2009 she won the grand prize in the Jeunesses Musicales Montreal International Musical Competition. That same year she suffered a split aorta resulting in emergency heart surgery. She underwent an emergency double-bypass 10 years later, in July of 2019, and was back on stage in December of the same year. Measha was the Goodwill Ambassador for the African Medical & Research Foundation and is the recipient of Canada’s prestigious Canada Council Performing Arts grant as well as the Chalmers performing arts grant.
Lastly, we have the jazz legend, Oscar Peterson. Born in Montreal, Quebec, to immigrant parents from the West Indies, Oscar Peterson began playing professionally at the age of 14 and made his American debut in New York City at Carnegie Hall in 1950. He was 25 years old at the time. Oscar Peterson went on to release over 200 recordings and won numerous awards and honors including 7 Grammy awards, and a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy. His storied career saw him working with jazz legends like Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, and scores of others in duets, trios, quartets, and larger ensembles. Despite suffering from arthritis from a very early age, Oscar Peterson played thousands of concerts all over the world over his 60+ year career. He is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists in history. My mom and I had the privilege of hearing Oscar Peterson play in Stratford Ontario in the late 80s, and it is a memory and a joy I will carry, always. A documentary on Peterson’s life titled Oscar Peterson: Black + White had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021.
About the Author
As Principal with McDermott + Bull Canada, Alex Verdecchia brings 16 years of experience in executive search. He has a strong track record of success partnering with client organizations to deliver best-in-class talent in a diverse set of industries and functional areas. At McDermott + Bull, Alex’s practice is focused on post-secondary education, NPOs, healthcare, professional colleges and associations, and municipalities.