Canada Post is launching a new commemorative stamp celebrating Salome Bey, Canada’s First Lady of the Blues. Bey was an award-winning singer-songwriter, composer, producer, director and actor, who was also widely revered for how she mentored young artists.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, Bey began her professional musical career in the 1950s touring North America and Europe with her brother and sister as Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters. In the early 1960s, after meeting her future husband, Howard Matthews, in Toronto, she made Canada her home and pursued a solo career singing in a range of genres from blues to jazz to pop.
Bey’s talents were multi-faceted. She appeared in musicals, such as the off-Broadway Love Me, Love My Children (Justine in Canada), for which she earned an Obie Award in 1972, and Broadway’s Tony Award–winning Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, which earned her and other performers a Grammy nomination for the original cast recording.
She started writing her own songs as well as musicals, which allowed her to provide more opportunities to Black performers. She wrote and starred in Indigo, a revue celebrating the history of Black music. The show, which ran from 1978 to 1980, was a hit and earned her two Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Later filmed for TV, it aired on CBC in 1984. She also wrote and starred in Shimmytime (1983) about American performer Ethel Waters, and wrote and directed Madame Gertrude (1985) about blues legend Ma Rainey. Her celebrated children’s musical Rainboworld featured many young performers who would go on to have successful careers in the arts.
Over her career, Bey also released several solo albums and appeared on recordings with the likes of jazz pianist Horace Silver and composer/pianist Galt MacDermot.
Always willing to contribute to charitable initiatives, Bey participated in the charity single “Tears Are Not Enough” in support of Ethiopian famine relief in 1985 and was also a member of Artists Against Racism. She was a key organizer of and songwriter for the 1986 Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival – the event, which was attended by then-Bishop Desmond Tutu, was held to protest apartheid in South Africa and to raise funds for local Toronto charities.
Over her career, she received several awards and honours, including a Toronto Arts Award (1992), the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award from Montréal’s Black Theatre Workshop (1996) and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012). In 2005, she became an Honorary Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2021 was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Salome Bey passed away August 8, 2020, in Toronto.