This famed contralto was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1911 to parents who had been slaves in Virginia. She started singing in the church choir and was so determined to be a singer that she walked 10 miles every week for music lessons. White won the Helen Kennedy Silver Cup at the Halifax Music Festival in 1935, 1937, and 1938, and then became the first Black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim.
She is considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century. As a voice teacher, she counted among her pupils actress Dinah Christie, jazz singer Anne Marie Moss, Lorne Greene (one of only two Canadians to top the charts in the ’60s), and actor Don Francks. She also taught actor-singer Robert Goulet, who is a Grammy and Tony Award winner.
In 1964, she performed for the Queen and Prince Philip at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts. And she got a stamp! Canada Post issued it in 1999.
Born in 1925 in Montreal, this legendary jazz pianist would go on to win eight Grammys. He was one of the first Black artists to gain fame in the white-dominated music industry of the '50s and was a spokesman for minority rights.
"He broke out of Canada. He's one of the first people," says Tracy Biddle, whose late father Charles was a close friend of Peterson. "We talk of Celine Dion and Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette, and Bryan Adams. Oscar Peterson did what they did years ago as a Black person. So what he's done is incredible."
"He was the most famous Canadian in the world," Jean Chretien said of Peterson in the 1960s. Chretien offered to make Peterson Ontario's lieutenant-governor when he became prime minister in 1993. (Peterson declined for health reasons.)
Eleanor Collins, who is now 103 years old, is known as the Canadian First Lady of Jazz.
The Edmonton-born artist first began performing in gig venues and on the radio back in the 1940s and has since become a major figure in Canadian history.
It was winning a talent contest that launched Collins' career, with her going on to perform with an array of musicians such as Chris Gage, Phil Nimmons, Lance Harrison, Doug Parker, Fraser MacPherson, Don Thompson and Dave Robbins over the years.
She also became Canada's first female jazz artist to host a national television series -- "The Eleanor Show" -- in 1955. She went on to host "Eleanor" in 1964, appearing on multiple other TV and radio shows throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s.
In January 2022, Canada Post unveiled a special stamp to honour Collins (pictured).
She last performed in Vancouver in her mid-90s.
She's the first woman in Canada to become a star M.C. In the mid-'80s, the Jamaica-born, Toronto-raised MC teamed up with L.A. Luv. The duo's first single, "Elements of Style," was a hit in the U.S. and led to a contract with Atlantic Records in 1988.
Michie Mee became the first Canadian M.C. to sign a record deal with a major American label. The hip-hop pioneer joined alt-rock band Raggadeath and created the 1995 hit, "One Life". In 2004, she teamed up with fellow artists, including Maestro, Thrust, and Toya Alexis, to form the Peace Prophets, which produced the charity single "Drop the Chrome".
Her latest album, 2020's 'Bahdgyal's Revenge', features Chuck D, Jamaican reggae legend Lindo P, and more. She's the recipient of the prestigious Roy Thomson Hall Award bestowed by the Toronto Arts Council. The award recognizes creative, performing, administrative, volunteer, or philanthropic contributions to Toronto's musical life.
The Junos didn't have a Rap category. And then Maestro Fresh Wes dropped his debut album, 'Symphony in Effect'. And then the Junos needed a Rap category. Driven by hits like "Let Your Backbone Slide", Maestro's 1989 album was the first certified platinum album by a Black Canadian artist. And he took home the first Juno Award for Rap Recording. The Toronto hip-hop duo Dream Warriors won the Juno the following year.
Mathew Tsang/Getty Images
Deborah Cox made history as she became the first Black woman inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2022.
The Toronto born and raised singer received the honour at the Juno Awards, sharing: “So many have embarked on a musical career, but only few have ever landed here. Growing up as a young Black girl in Toronto, Canada, this vision seemed intangible.
“It wasn’t easy to leave my home, but it was necessary. Otherwise, I’m not sure that I’d be standing here this evening. Those rejections become redirection, and only added fuel to my fire.”
After spending her teenage years performing in TV commercials and working as a backing vocalist for Celine Dion, Cox moved to the U.S., where Clive Davis signed her to Arista Records and released her first, self-titled album.
Her second album, 1998’s One Wish, became a huge success, going platinum in the U.S., and spawning the chart hit “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here”. She has since released more albums and appeared in films and such stage musicals as Aida on Broadway.
Nelson Mandela was in the audience for Offishall's first live stage performance. He was 14, it was 1990, and Mandela was on his first visit to Toronto following his prison release. Since then, Offishall has had a number of hits, including "Numba 1 (Tide Is High) (featuring Keri Hilson and Rihanna)" and "Dangerous (featuring Akon)". Known as Canada's Hip-Hop Ambassador, Offishall is one of the country's best producers due to his unique flavour of reggae and dancehall-influenced hip hop.
Canada's Queen of R&B Soul is a platinum-selling, Juno-winning, Toronto-born powerhouse. The "Seven Day Fool" hitmaker is a versatile star who's starred on stage in "Da Kink In My Hair" and on T.V. as an entertainment correspondent. She has collabed with Sean Paul, Saukrates, Destiny's Child, and Kardinal Offishall. She's shared the stage with Kanye West, Celine Dion, Elton John, and Etta James.
She was even invited to sing for Queen Elizabeth II.
Black, who is the youngest of nine, counts herself as a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ communities.
"We have our own experiences here, and our own culture, and our own way of expressing ourselves," Shad told the Georgia Straight. "As much as we're influenced [by the States], we have definitely stumbled onto our own voice, or voices." Shad won the Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year in 2011, but he's the Susan Lucci of the Polaris Music Prize.
Of his seven albums, four were shortlisted for the award that is presented annually to the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label. After hosting CBC Radio's "q" in 2015 and 2016, he hosted "Hip-Hop Evolution". The docuseries won a Peabody Award and an International Emmy Award.
Danny Simpson/ Underscore Studios
Director X, born in Toronto as Julien Christian Lutz, has directed over 100 music videos, including classics like Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend", Nelly's "Hot in Herre", Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious (Rockwilder Remix featuring Missy Elliott)", Ciara's "Body Party", Rihanna's "Work (featuring Drake)" and Fifth Harmony's "Work from Home (featuring Ty Dolla Sign)". Most crucially, he directed Drake's seminal 2015 video for "Hotline Bling".
We are so excited to introduce you to this little-known, underground, hush-hush emerging star. We think he has a bright future! But for real, you already know that the 6 God is one of the biggest music stars in history. Drake's influence is enormous. How enormous? He's the only person on this list who draws $440 million annually(!) into Toronto's tourism economy. That equates to 5 per cent of the total tourism economy for the No. 1 destination in Canada. By comparison, The Beatles draw about $140 million into Liverpool's tourism economy, translating into 2,335 local jobs. So you're darn right that Mayor John Tory was eager to present Drizzy with the key to the city (pictured).
In 2022, Drake broke the all-time record for the most top 5 hits among all artists in Billboard Hot 100 history, overtaking The Beatles.
Drizzy nabbed 30 top 5 hits, while The Beatles had 29.
Toronto record producer and songwriter Boi-1da (pictured) is an in-house producer at Drake's OVO Sound record label. His distinctive dance hall sound is so popular that he's produced songs for a who's who of stars, including Rihanna, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Meek Mill, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, and more.
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty Images
Toronto's spooky, electro-pop crooner was centre stage for one of the world's biggest gigs, the Super Bowl Halftime Show. His 2015 breakout track, "Earned It", was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar (for "Fifty Shades of Grey") and won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance. The nine-time Juno winner is the first artist to simultaneously hold the top three positions on the Billboard's Hot R&B Songs chart. "Can't Feel My Face", "Earned It", and "The Hills" stacked the top of the chart on September 8, 2015. His charity line of non-medical face masks, marked with the 'xo' logo, raised $1 million. He donated $500,000 to MusiCares and $500,000 to his hometown front-line hospital staff at the Scarborough Health Network.
In 2021, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” became the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All Time Hot 100 Chart. The 2019 smash hit then became the most-streamed song on Spotify in 2023 after it spent nearly two years on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Born in Haiti and raised in Montreal, this D.J. and record producer first attracted attention in 2010 with a series of mixtapes, remixes, and originals released under the name Kaytradamus. In 2016, he unleashed his critically acclaimed debut album '99.9%' and took home the 2016 Polaris Music Prize. His 2019 followup 'Bubba' was nominated for three Grammys. Kaytranada (born Louis Kevin Celestin) is also part of the hip-hop duo the Celestics with his brother Lou Phelps.
Toronto rapper Haviah Mighty first gained attention in 2016 as a member of the hip-hop group the Sorority. Her debut full-length solo album, 2019's '13th Floor', won the 2019 Polaris Music Prize.
In 2022, she became the first woman to be awarded the Juno award for Rap Album/EP of the Year.
Backxwash moved from Zambia to B.C. to earn a computer science degree. After grad, the transgender rapper headed to Montreal and began performing at jam nights. Her heavy metal-inflected "God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It" won the Polaris Music Prize in 2020.
Like Black Canadians before her, she’s working hard to push back the boundaries to create space in the scene for herself and the generation that will follow.
"There's a divide between English and French artists," she told CBC. "French artists always have an easier time making it big in Quebec. English artists have to gain traction elsewhere and then come back to Quebec. Kaytranada got famous in Europe first and then Montreal finally embraced him. I don't believe it should be like that for artists, especially for queer people of colour and women."
Mustafa Ahmed, who goes by the stage names Mustafa the Poet and Mustafa, became the first Black Muslim to win a Juno for alternative album of the year for "When Smoke Rises" in 2022.
The Sudanese-Canadian poet, singer, songwriter and filmmaker from Toronto explained why we should rethink "firsts" when accepting the award.
"Being the first of anything should now be critiqued more than celebrated," he said.
Mustafa connected with Toronto producer Frank Dukes in 2016 and has since helped co-write tracks for The Weeknd, Camila Cabello, the Jonas Brothers and more.