Canadian jazz legend dies at 104

When in January, Canada Post featured Eleanor Collins, Canada’s first lady of jazz on a postage stamp, she was all of 103 years-old and still kicking; The Caribbean Camera published her fantastic story in our February 1st issue.

Eleanor Collins

Well, we regret to report that Ms. Collins passed away last Sunday. She was 104.

A summary of her story we first published on February 1st

In 1954, Collins marked her television debut on CBC Vancouver’s Bamboula: A Day in the West Indies, a groundbreaking Canadian show featuring a mixed-race cast and the initial live music TV broadcast from Vancouver.

Later, she took the lead in The Eleanor Show, becoming the first woman and Black artist to host her own national television series. On her 100th birthday, Collins shared poignant lyrics from Shirley Horn’s “Here’s to Life,” expressing a life philosophy: “No complaints and no regrets, I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets. But I have learned that all you give is all you get, so give it all you’ve got.”

Eleanor Collinsa

Reflecting on her illustrious career, Collins expressed, “I definitely have no regrets.” Born on Nov. 21, 1919, in Edmonton to Black homesteader parents who migrated from Oklahoma, she won a singing contest at 15, launching her radio career on CFRN.

Relocating to Vancouver in the late 1930s, she joined the Swing Low Quartet, singing on the radio. In 1942, Collins married Richard Collins, moving to Burnaby, B.C., where they faced racism as the first Black family in the neighborhood. Despite opposition, they prevailed, and Collins, a model of grace and courage, volunteered at her children’s school to challenge stereotypes.

Recording with the Ray Norris Quintet and performing in the 1950s, she gained recognition as Vancouver’s first lady of jazz. Notably, in 1952, she sang at Vancouver’s Stanley Park and continued to evolve as an artist.

Marcus Mosely, a Vancouver musician, admired Collins for using “love and engagement” to overcome adversity. He recalled her captivating performance of “Bein’ Green” at a Black History Month concert, emphasizing her commanding stage presence and masterful delivery that left the audience spellbound.

In 2014, Collins, at 95, received the Order of Canada for her contributions, and in 2022, Canada Post honored her with a commemorative stamp. Her legacy endures as a trailblazer in Canadian television and a symbol of resilience against racial adversity.