Music

From the archives: the legendary Salome Bey on gender equality, reluctance in the Toronto music scene and more

From a 1965 performance to a feature 1991 interview, we look at the singer’s career via decades-old footage.

From a 1965 performance to a feature 1991 interview, we look at the singer’s career via decades-old footage

Salome Bey starring in the cabaret show Indigo, a music history of the blues that Bey also created and wrote. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Salome Bey, often referred to as Canada's first lady of blues, died this past weekend at the age of 86. 

The New Jersey-born artist started her career as part of the sibling trio Andy and the Bey Sisters, but a move to Toronto in the mid-1960s solidly planted Bey in the city's blues and theatre scenes — on which she would have significant influence throughout her 40-year solo career.

A Grammy-nominated member of the Order of Canada, and a recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal, Bey stopped performing in 2011 due to health issues.

Below, we dive into a handful of Bey's milestones and performances via the CBC Archives.

1965: Sibling roots

This performance from Andy and the Bey Sisters is a real treat. Salome's younger brother, Andy, formed a sibling trio with Salome and their sister Geraldine, before Salome moved to Toronto and started her solo career. Active between 1957 and 1966, the siblings released three albums together.

The half-hour live performance, from May 14, 1965, is material from the trio's 1964 record, Now! Hear!.

This 1965 performance includes material from the sibling trio’s album Now! Hear!. 20:03

1978: Bey on family, astrology and feminism

Bey gave a generous interview to CBC's Barbara McLeod for the program Time For You. The half-hour sit-down chat ranged from Bey's writing with her eldest daughter, Jacintha Tuku, her extensive work projects, her beliefs in astrology, and her marriage and family life. (Bey's youngest daughter, Saidah Baba Talibah, would go on to become the singer SATE.)

Bey also touched on her relationship with feminism, and her experience with gender equality. From the interview:

Barbara McLeod: You're not a feminist, then?

Salome Bey: No way [laughs]. Well, to each his own, but I, in a way I feel a little sorry for anybody that has to say well I want to be equal, I want to be this and I want this written down. But I've gotta have equality. You just should have it. And maybe they do have to struggle for it. I don't understand it because I've always been an individualist, and always been out there. And I'm a very feminine woman. I'm very family oriented. And I still do, I'm still very what you would call liberated, without demanding that I have to have it. I've never had to do that. 

The singer talks about writing with her eldest daughter, her experiences with gender equality, her marriage and family life. 27:47

1987: performing at Toronto's BamBoo

While there is little context for this live club performance, it gives a nice sense of Bey and her band. It was recorded on May 26, 1987, at Toronto's now closed BamBoo restaurant and club

A live concert recorded on May 26, 1987. 1:15

1991: Toronto's slow uptake on Bey's art

In 1991 Bey received a Toronto Arts Award in the performing arts category. By that time, Bey had been singing and performing theatre since the 1960s, and had garnered two Dora Mavor Moore awards for Indigo, a play Bey created, wrote and starred in, as well as a Grammy nomination for the cast album of the 1976 Broadway play Your Arms Too Short to Box with God

In an interview with CBC's Beth Harrington just before receiving the award, Bey described the slow Toronto uptake of her work:

"As far as my career, I find sometimes Toronto takes a little long to, how should I put it, take a chance in new, innovative works, and I'm not just saying for Salome's. I've spoken to many other writers who have come up with some great ideas. I keep trying to open doors, I keep writing and things are starting to happen in their own slow way."

CBC’s Beth Harrington interviews the singer before she receives the long overdue award for her work. 2:54

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