Montreal

Daisy Sweeney mural 'captures her spirit,' says daughter at unveiling

The first time Judith Sweeney saw the completed mural of her mother, the late Daisy Sweeney, while driving home from work after her night shift, her heart stopped. "I had to pull over to the side of the road and compose myself," she said.

Mural was painted by Kevin Ledo, the Montreal artist whose depiction of Leonard Cohen looms over the Main

The mural of Daisy Peterson Sweeney, painted by artist Kevin Ledo, was unveiled Tuesday in Little Burgundy. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

The first time Judith Sweeney saw the completed mural of her mother, the late Daisy Sweeney, while she was driving home from work after her night shift, her heart stopped.

"I had to pull over to the side of the road and compose myself," she said. "It captures her spirit, her kindness, her generosity, so I was very, very pleased."

The mural, painted by Montreal portraitist Kevin Ledo, was unveiled on St-Jacques Street in the Southwest borough Tuesday afternoon. Ledo is the artist whose nine-storey mural of Leonard Cohen on Napoleon Street looks out over Cohen's old stomping ground on the Main.

Daisy Peterson Sweeney died in August 2017, at 97. She was renowned for having taught countless children in Little Burgundy to play the piano.

Daisy's brother, Oscar Peterson, and Oliver Jones — jazz greats whose murals already grace the sides of buildings in Little Burgundy — were Sweeney's students.

"Oscar and I may have gotten all the awards and that, but she was the one that really deserved it," said Jones, who was at Tuesday's unveiling. "So I'm very, very happy that she's being admired and honoured now."

Many of Sweeney's other pupils went on to pursue music careers. Sweeney also co-founded the Montreal Black Community Youth Choir, which later became the internationally celebrated Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. 

'The artist is telling her story for her'

But Sweeney did more than teach music, her daughter says. She created and helped uphold a community in Little Burgundy, where she lived and taught. 

Judith Sweeney, Daisy Sweeney's daughter, said her mother helped build a community. (CBC)

"[The kids] always felt they could talk to her, and she always seemed to find the right words to help anybody," Judith Sweeney said.

The mural features a portrait of Daisy Sweeney taken by photographer Tedd Church for the Montreal Gazette in the 1980s. In it, a smiling Sweeney is leaning over the keys of a piano, sheet music in front of her.

"It reminds me of that look: 'Have you practised? Are you having fun?'" another daughter, Sylvia Sweeney, said. 

"Everyone has a different story about Daisy, every single person, and she never had a story about herself. So I think the artist is telling her story for her."

Ledo said the mural took him about five 10- to 12-hour days to complete. He came up with the concept after choosing the photo with the help of Sweeney's family. 

"I just thought it was really playful. It was inviting and … I just thought it told the best story," he said.

Sylvia Sweeney, Daisy Sweeney's daughter, says artist Kevin Ledo captured her mother's story with the mural. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Sylvia Sweeney recalled how her mother went from doing domestic work, to studying music at McGill University in the 1940s, to paving the way for the children she taught to go to McGill themselves.

Sylvia Sweeney received her own scholarship to study music at the university when she was 16.

"I felt at home," she said. "It was because of the path that she walked."

With files from CBC reporter Elias Abboud

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now