Canadian jazz legend Eleanor Collins honoured with commemorative postage stamp

Eleanor Collins, known as “Canada’s First Lady of Jazz,” is getting a commemorative postage stamp in her honour.

Canada Post chose the 102-year-old music legend and civic leader as the subject of its stamp celebrating Black History Month.

A trailblazing woman of colour, Collins made history by becoming the first Black artist in North America to headline a national TV series.

Collins was celebrated with a virtual event on Friday, Jan. 21, that officially revealed the stamp and paid tribute to her life and career “as an artist, musician and mentor.”

Collins took part along with special guests Nalda Callender of the National Congress of Black Women Foundation, filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton, and musicians Sharman King, Marcus Mosely and Wendy Solloway.

“I feel wonderful and honoured,” Collins said. “At 102 years old, one doesn’t expect to even be remembered. But I am grateful. That’s something that you can’t take away. The honour is there, the excitement is there. But to have someone affirm your work and life on a postage stamp… that is something. There is only one word for that, and that is ‘surreal.'”

Born in Edmonton in 1918, Collins moved to Vancouver in 1939, where her young family were the only Black residents. Neighbours started a petition asking them to move, and her children were bullied. Collins responded by volunteering in the school and teaching music to Girl Guides.

As a musician, Collins went on to perform on a number of radio and television programs throughout the next several decades. In 1954, she joined the CBC’s Bamboula: A Day in the West Indies and became part of the first interracial cast on a Canadian television show. A year later, she starred in The Eleanor Show, making her both the first woman and the first person of colour to headline a national TV show, predating The Nat King Cole Show.

Often compared to Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald, Collins also performed in clubs and in concert with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Phil Nimmons, Chris Gage, Lance Harrison, Doug Parker and Dave Robbins.

In 2014, Collins was named a Member of the Order of Canada on her 95th birthday.

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