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Oscar Peterson’s Montreal childhood in Saint-Henri

The Story

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson was born on Aug. 15, 1925 in Montreal, Que. He grew up next to a church in Saint-Henri -- a bustling district with a small but tight-knit black community. (As remembered by Peterson in this CBC Television clip.) His father, Daniel Peterson, made sure the house was immersed in music. He was a self-taught musician who worked as a railway porter all his life. When Oscar Peterson was still young, his father scraped together enough money to buy a piano, even if it meant the family didn't have enough to eat for a few days. Daniel Peterson was strict but he instilled a sense of discipline and drive in his five children. He saw music as a way out of working on the rails, one of the few opportunities open to black Canadians at the time. Two important teachers in Oscar Peterson's early musical training were his sister Daisy and the Hungarian-born classical pianist Paul de Marky. He later credited them for making him believe he had something to offer to the musical world.

Medium: Television
Program: Portraits
Broadcast Date: Feb. 16, 1983
Guests: Paul de Marky, Oscar Peterson, Daisy Peterson
Narrator: William Whitehead
Duration: 7:47

Did You know?

• Daniel Peterson was born in the British Virgin Islands. He came to Canada as a seaman. Oscar Peterson's mother Kathleen Olivia John was born in St. Kitts, Leeward Islands and came to Canada as a domestic.
• Oscar Peterson started off playing the trumpet and piano when he was five. He focused on classical piano two years later after a bout with tuberculosis left him with weakened lungs.

• One of Peterson's compositions is called Place St. Henri. The piece is named after his childhood home and is part of his Canadiana Suite.
• Daisy Peterson also taught piano to jazz luminaries such as Oliver Jones and Joe Sealy.


Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Giant more