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Black Musicians

February is Black History Month. It is a month to celebrate and acknowledge Black Canadians and their communities. Black Canadians have been part of Canada’s history and culture for centuries.

We are pleased to highlight and promote several Black artists, both contemporary and historical, as part of Black History Month this February. Please research and support the artists featured below, as well as doing your own research on all the amazing Black artists in Canada and beyond that share their music.

Scroll down for links to organizations where you can learn more about Black Canadian history.

Portia White



Portia White was a contralto and teacher who was the first Black Canadian concert singer to earn international recognition. Born in Nova Scotia in 1911, her paternal grandparents had been enslaved in Virginia while her maternal grandparents were Nova Scotian. White’s singing career began in the church choir. By the age of eight, she was singing operatic soprano parts and was determined to become a professional singer. She studied education at Dalhousie University and became a schoolteacher in Black Nova Scotian communities. In the 1930s, White took voice lessons at the Halifax Conservatory of Music and competed in the Halifax Music Festival, winning various awards throughout the years.

In 1941 she made her formal debut in Toronto, performing to rave reviews who called her voice “a gift from heaven.” That same year White resigned from her teaching career and continued to give concerts throughout Canada, despite trouble being allowed to book performances because of her race. She was the first Canadian to perform a recital at New York’s Town Hall. She toured North, Central and South America and a few places in Europe. In the 1950s she moved to Toronto and taught voice. She performed a few more times – including once for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in Charlottetown – before she passed in 1968.

Her original supporters in Nova Scotia established the Nova Scotia Talent Trust which continues to award annual arts scholarships to local artists. White was named “a person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada and Canada Post issued a stamp with her image.

Kwamé Ryan



Kwamé Ryan is a Canadian-born conductor and music educator who grew up on the island of Trinidad. After completing his early music education he completed his studies in the United Kingdom and Hungary, studying Musicology and conducting. In Freiburg, Hungary on a university exchange program, Ryan studied conducting with Peter Eötvös and was later made the General Music Director of the Freiburg Opera and the Freiburg Philharmonic Opera. In 2004, he made his professional UK conducting debut at the Edinburgh International Festival, an annual arts festival for classical music, performing arts as well as visual art exhibitions. He returned to the festival in 2005 as the conductor of ballet performances with the Scottish Ballet. Ryan spent five years as the music director of the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine in Bordeaux, France.

Ryan works on several educational and community development projects in Trinidad and served as the Director of the Academy for the Performing Arts at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. His busy career has included working with the Symphony Orchestras of Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Houston, the Boston Lyric Opera, English National Opera, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Scottish Symphony and the London Philharmonia; as well as several prominent orchestras and symphony in Germany and France.

Ryan currently works internationally as a freelancer, having conducted throughout Europe and the United States. He is passionate about music education and is a recipient of multiple international awards for work in the field of music education.

Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson was a Canadian jazz pianist and composer, whose career spanned over 60 years. Born in 1925 and raised in a predominantly black neighbourhood of Montreal, Peterson was surrounded by the influence of jazz from a young age. He was taught the piano by his father and older sister. He was highly skilled by the age of nine, impressing the likes of many professional musicians. At the age of fourteen, he won the national music competition organized by the CBC, which inspired him to dropout of high school and become a professional musician.

Peterson performed and recorded with a number of duos, trios and quartets throughout his entire career; some of the individuals he performed with included Ray Brown, Barney Kessel, Sam Jones, Count Basie, Herbie Hancock and more. Peterson taught piano and improvisation throughout Canada, mostly in Toronto. He mentored the York University jazz program and was the Chancellor of the University in the 1990s. He also published jazz piano etudes for practice.

Peterson won nine Grammys over the course of his career, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. Other awards and recognitions include an Officer and Companion of the Order of Canada, entry into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canada’s Walk of Fame, a number of honorary degrees and much more. He is considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists of history, having performed thousands of concerts throughout the world.

Haviah Mighty

Haviah Mighty is a Canadian rapper from Brampton, Ontario. Mighty, her surname from birth, perfectly describes Haviah’s attitude towards creating music that is uncompromising and to the point. Haviah started taking music lessons throughout the GTA at the age of four. She honed her craft for rap and music production and independently released her first mixtape, No Studio, in 2010 at the age of seventeen.

Over the next several years she released more projects, competed in and won ‘So You Think You Can Rap Canada’ and performed at CNE’s Rising Star Talent in 2016. The same year, along with Lex Leosis, Keysha Freshh and pHoenix Pagliacci, Haviah began performing in a hip hop group called The Sorority. The group was named one of “Toronto’s Musicians to Watch” by NOW Magazine. Haviah’s fifth EP Flower City was met with much critical acclaim and was one of Complex’s favourite Canadian releases of 2017.

The Sorority announced in 2019 that they would be breaking up in order to allow the members to pursue their individual music careers. That year Mighty announced and released her debut studio album 13th Floor, named after the phenomenon of skipping the thirteenth floor in buildings, as well as the lack of discussion surrounding the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. In September 2019 Haviah won the Polaris Music Prize for the album.

In 2022 her mixtape Stock Exchange won the Juno Award for Rap Album of the Year, making her the first woman ever to win the award. Haviah combines rap, song and instrumental seamlessly across genres like hip hop, soul and more, breaking down expectations for the genre. Her goal is to continue carving a space for defying gendered expectations for women in hip hop.


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