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Giant Steps: Archie Alleyne

Wednesday, 22 February 2017 14:48

It’s hard to imagine Toronto as anything but the tolerant, open minded and diverse city that we see today, but there was a time when racial segregation was alive and well, even in the cities music venues.

Archie Alleyne was the go-to drummer on Toronto’s live music scene starting in the late 50’s. Back then black musicians had to fight for stage time, sometimes sneaking into the back of the white dominated clubs in the downtown core. Archie was a self taught musician who lobbied tirelessly using both diplomacy and tenacity to make sure black musicians had equal footing on the stages across Hogtown. His legacy is as much a musical legacy as it is one of social activism. 

The Order of Canada recipient played with the best throughout his career as a regular at the Town Tavern he played with legends like Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. He was part owner of the famed restaurant and club The Underground railroad. He co-founded one of Canada’s finest jazz meets world music ensemble’s Kollage with the late Doug Riley. Behind the scenes he lobbied the Canada Council for the Arts, insisting that they include jazz when providing subsidies for recordings. He called their lack of support discrimination. Eventually the federal government marched in time with Archie’s wishes.  By the time he reached the later part of his life, the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund had been established and his musical contribution grew to encompass his tireless work empowering young musicians, especially young black musicians.

When Archie died on June 8, 2015, at the age of 82, Joe Sealy, Shakura S’aida, Mark McLean and a who’s who of jazz in Canada all came together to mourn the pioneer, educator and legend. Archie Alleyne had a lot to teach us, a creative soul with the heart of a warrior.

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