Day 6

That time real life Green Book musician Don Shirley came to Canada

The late renowned African-American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley is the central character in the controversial Oscar-nominated film Green Book. In 1974, he came to Hamilton, Ont. to premier a musical tribute to his late friend Duke Ellington.

Canadian conductor Boris Brott remembers when the legendary pianist came to play

Boris Brott, left, is the artistic director, conductor and founder of the National Academy Orchestra of Canada. Don Shirley, right, is a late jazz and classical piano prodigy who came to perform — alongside Brott — in Hamilton, Ontario on Jan. 30, 1974. (Submitted by Boris Brott, Wikipedia)

The Oscar-nominated film Green Book has been getting a lot of attention — but not all of it has been good.

The movie has stirred controversy and faced criticism.

But despite that, it's already earned three Golden Globes, the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards, and has now secured five Oscars nominations.

The movie's central character is based on the renowned African American classical and jazz piano player, Don Shirley.

Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, toured the Deep South by road in the early 1960s.

Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley, and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga, in the Oscar-nominated film Green Book. (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures/AP)

He's accompanied by a working-class Italian-American driver and bodyguard named Tony Vallelonga, who is played by Viggo Mortensen. 

But the film doesn't tell all of Shirley's story. Shirley visited Hamilton, Ont., 45 years ago on Jan. 30, 1974, for the world premiere of his musical tribute to his friend, the legendary Duke Ellington.

Boris Brott — the celebrated Canadian philharmonic orchestra director and conductor — remembers the day Don Shirley came to play.

At the time, Boris Brott was the artistic director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. He's now the artistic director and conductor of the National Academy Orchestra of Canada.

To hear the full segment with Boris Brott, download our podcast or click 'Listen' at the top of this page.


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