Salome Bey, singer, actress, songwriter (born 10 October 1933 in Newark, New Jersey; died 8 August 2020 in Toronto, ON). Salome Bey was an award-winning jazz, blues and R&B singer. Known as “Canada’s First Lady of the Blues,” wrote and starred in Indigo, a Dora Award-winning history of the blues, and was part of the all-star lineup of Canadian singers who produced the charity single “Tears Are not Enough.” Bey received a Toronto Arts Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal. She was made an honorary member of the Order of Canada in 2005 and was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2021.
From 1957 to 1966, Salome Bey sang throughout the United States with her brother Andy and her sister Geraldine as Andy and the Bey Sisters. She made her first appearance in Toronto in 1961 and settled there in 1964, singing jazz, blues, and spirituals in nightclubs and on radio and TV. She was a featured performer at the Canadian National Exhibition grandstand in 1969, and enjoyed particular success in musicals, usually in so-called “earth mother” roles. She was first seen at the Global Village theatre in the Robert Swerdlow revues Blue S.A. (1969) and Justine (1970). She also appeared in Spring Thaw.
Bey received an Obie Award in 1972 for her performance in the 1971–72 Broadway production of Justine (renamed Love Me, Love My Children). Leading roles followed in Galt MacDermot’s Dude (New York 1972); in Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope (Toronto 1973, Washington 1974); and in Your Arms Too Short to Box with God (New York 1975–77), which received a Grammy Award nomination for best cast album.
Bey wrote and starred in Indigo, a Dora Award-winning history of the blues, seen 1978–80 at the Toronto cabaret Basin Street and in 1984 on CBC TV. Her revue Shimmytime (about Ethel Waters) was produced at Basin Street in 1983. A similar production, Madame Gertrude (about Ma Rainey, played by Jackie Richardson), followed there in 1985. Also that year, Bey contributed vocals to the charity single “Tears Are not Enough,” alongside such stars as Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams and Neil Young.
Bey's children's musical, Rainboworld, was presented at the Young People's Theatre in 1988 and featured such young Black Canadian singers as Deborah Cox and Divine Brown. She also took other musical and/or dramatic roles, e.g., in Thunder, Perfect Mind (Toronto Free Theatre, 1985); Mother Goose (Royal Alexandra Theatre, 1985); and Coming Through Slaughter (Silver Dollar Tavern, 1989).
Bey continued to appear in concert (including many benefits), in clubs, and on radio and TV. She often appeared with her daughters Jacintha Tuku and Saidah Baba Talibah who, with other musicians, accompanied her as the Relatives. Bey sang for Canada Day celebrations at Ontario Place, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and at Expo 86. She became known for her stirring interpretation of “Mon Pays,” a song she first sang in the 1970 Spring Thaw.
Bey’s recordings include the LPs Salome Bey (1970); Songs from Dude (1972); and Jazz Canada Europe'79, made during an RCI-sponsored tour of the Bracknell, Northsea and Montreux jazz festivals. She also appeared on LPs by the jazz pianist Horace Silver (The United States of Mind, Phase 2: Total Response, 1970-1; The United States of Mind, Phase 3: All, 1972) and with the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.
In 1991, Bey received a Toronto Arts Award in the performing arts category. In 1995, she and the Relatives released Christmas Blue on the record label Rainbowhirl Music Inc (RMI). Bey also starred in CBC TV's 1995 holiday special Salome Bey's Christmas Soul.
To celebrate Black History Month and the contributions of African Canadians to jazz, blues, and R&B, Bey performed 22 February 2002 at Toronto's Scadding Court Community Centre.
In 1996, Salome Bey received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal. She was inducted as an honorary member of the Order of Canada in 2005 and received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
On 20 February 2008, less than six months before her death at age 86, Bey was honoured at a Black History Month revue starring Joe Sealy and Saidah Baba Talibah at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp in Bey’s honour on 22 April 2022.
See also Black Women in the Arts.
- Outstanding Performance in a Revue or Musical (Indigo), Dora Awards (1981)
- Toronto Arts Award (1991)
- Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Lifetime Achievement, Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal (1996)
- Honorary Member, Order of Canada (2005)
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)
- Inductee, Canada’s Walk of Fame (2021)