British Columbia

Leon Bibb, veteran singer, Vancouver legend, dies at 93

Moved to Pacific Northwest in 1969 after performance

October 27, 2015

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Singer, actor and civil right crusader Leon Bibb dies at age 95.  2:51

Famed singer and civil rights activist Leon Bibb has died in his adopted city of Vancouver, B.C.

Bibb grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, when racial segregation meant he had to use a separate restroom and water fountain when he was outside of the black community.
He left Kentucky at age 19, to live and work in New York.
As a singer and actor, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show no less than 10 times and performed on Broadway in the original production of Annie Get Your Gun, alongside Ethel Merman.


Civil rights

He also performed regularly with artists like Paul Robeson and Harry Belae as part of the American civil rights movement for racial equality.

Leon Bibb (third from right) performs along with other singers and civil rights activists, including Harry Belae, in Montgomery, Alabama at the end of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. (Getty Images)

Bibb moved to Vancouver in 1969 after opening for Bill Cosby at the PNE. He immediately fell in love with the city.

Bill Sample, who worked with Bibb as a music producer since the mid-1980s, said his friend was an icon who will be missed.

Singing, charm, storytelling

"My first thought was he leaves a big hole," Sample said.

"He used to fill that hole with his singing and his [charm] and his storytelling, but maybe what he leaves us with is the memory of all that beautiful work that he did."

Leon Bibb, 1960. (Getty Images)

While in Vancouver Bibb produced and performed in a number of stage and television shows — including One More Stop on the Freedom Train.

That musical — about the underground railroad journey of black slaves to Canada — was originally presented at Expo 86.

Bibb is well-known for helping establish the success of Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre.
He co-produced and performed in the Arts Club Theatre's seven-month-long run of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.
He also created A Step Ahead, the anti-racism school program that has been presented in both elementary and secondary schools throughout B.C. and Canada for more than 20 years.


"One of the things that made him stand out was authority," said Marcus Mosely, who formed the band The Sorjourners and knew Bibb for more than 25 years.

"He had the authority of being one who was in the forefront during the civil rights era, he actually marched with Dr. King, he sang with people like Joan Baez ... so he always carried within him this gravitas, this dignity and this strength."

In 2011, Bibb received an honourary degree from UBC and spoke to the The Early Edition host Rick Cluff about it.

Leon Bibb turned 93 in February 2015, and died on Friday October 23 in hospital.

with files from the CBC's Shana Hugh
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