Canada's First Lady Of Blues Salome Bey Dies


Salome Bey, regarded as Canada’s first lady of blues, died Saturday. She was 86.

“Salome had the most powerful voice coupled [with] the most gentle spirit, but she was resilient,” wrote Rosemary Sadlier, former president of the Ontario Black History Society, in a tribute on Facebook. “A life well lived, a family well honed, an amazing legacy!”

Singer-songwriter Ori Dagan tweeted: "She was a dynamic performer who had a powerful, unmistakable way with a lyric."

Friend Daryl Auwai shared: “She of the fabulous voice. She who sang with fire, power and glory. She of the gentle whispering voice that could rise to the strength of a volcano … May we always be inspired by and cherish her work and hold her dear in our hearts and memories forever.”

Born in New Jersey, Bey spent the late ‘50s and early ‘60s performing with her siblings in a vocal group called Andy and the Bey Sisters.

She relocated to Toronto in 1964 and became a staple on the city’s live music and musical theatre scenes.

Bey released her debut self-titled album in 1970 and recorded several others over the next three decades, including a pair with jazz pianist Horace Silver and one with the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.

Her stage credits include Blue S.A., Justine, Spring Thaw, Dude, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope and Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. The latter earned Bey a Grammy nomination in 1977 for Best Inspirational Performance.

Bey created Indigo, a cabaret show about the history of black music, for which she won a Dora Mavor Moore Award. She also created Shimmytime about jazz-blues singer Ethel Water and Madame Gertrude about blues singer Ma Rainey. 

She was honoured with a Toronto Arts Award and, in 2005, was made an honourary Member of the Order of Canada.

Bey is among the music artists heard on the 1985 charity single "Tears Are Not Enough."

Bey was forced to give up performing a little more than a decade ago due to Alzheimer's Disease.

Her husband of more than 50 years, Toronto restauranteur Howard Berkley Matthews, died in August 2016. They have two daughters – Toronto singers SATE (aka Saidah Baba Talibah) and Jacintha Tuku – and son Marcus.

This article has been updated since it was first published.