Episode 1: Land of Opportunities
Canada has been a land of opportunities for some of the world’s greatest musicians.
Between the 1950s to the 1970s, issues such as racial segregation and unpopular wars dominated the headlines, ultimately finding their way into the popular music of the day. Under pressure from both the government and advertising sponsors, broadcasting their songs could be seen as a politically charged act. At a time when many countries were closing their doors and airwaves to these artists, Canada opened theirs, showcasing some of the world's greatest musicians and allowing their voices to be heard.
AIRDATE: Nov. 15. 9 p.m.
Featuring: Sammy Davis Jr., Paul Anka, Joan Baez, Jackie Mittoo, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Joe Issacs, Jimmy Wisdom, Jay Douglas, Carol Brown, Otis Spann, Mable Hillery, Bukka White, Brownie McGee, Willie Dixon, Sonny Terry, Sunnyland Slim, Joseph Morganfield
In 1959, Sammy Davis Jr., one of the biggest stars of his era, came to Toronto to do a half-hour special for CBC television. It was a major win for both Davis and the CBC. The CBC got a major international star to help launch its new music variety show, Parade. Davis, meanwhile, got to do his solo network television special, something that had eluded him in his own country.
In the late '60s, folk singer Joan Baez was as well known for her activism as she was for her songwriting and hauntingly beautiful voice. She had spent most of the decade using her platform to speak out about various social justice causes, most notably her objection to American involvement in Vietnam, and the accompanying draft.
Beginning in the 1960s, a wave of Jamaican immigrants came to Canada, most of them settling in Toronto. Included among them were a handful of reggae musicians determined to make it in their new country. One of those musicians was Jackie Mittoo, a keyboardist, singer, and songwriter who had worked at legendary Jamaican recording studio Studio One.
"No one in American TV would put the blues on for an hour," says music journalist Nelson George. "It just wasn't gonna happen. It was music that was black, that was really black."
But that's exactly what two young CBC producers—Paddy Sampson and Barry Callaghan—did in early 1966, when they brought some of America's best blues musicians north, to perform in an hour-long special simply titled The Blues. The special featured the likes of Muddy Waters, Bukka White, Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, Otis Spann, Sonny Terry, and Mable Hillery.
With so many amazing performances in the CBC archives, it was impossible to fit them all into six episodes. Here's a bonus: a great performance by gospel and R&B legends the Staple Singers, doing "Heavy Makes You Happy" on a special hosted by Anne Murray in 1971.