Black History Month
Vancouver and Canada’s First Lady of Jazz
Canada Post issued this permanent stamp in January 2022 as a tribute to
legendary jazz vocalist Eleanor Collins
- MUSIC CLIPS
Collins recorded almost exclusively with CBC national and, at the moment, there isn’t much of her music available. She made no commercial recordings.
However, these short clips on YouTube give you a sense or her enormous talent.
Canada Post’s stamp illustration was based on this photograph –circa 1950s – by Vancouver
photographer, Franz Lindner
JAZZ ARTIST ELEANOR COLLINS
Amazing singer and dignified advocate for building community and social justice
She’s been called both Vancouver and Canada’s First Lady of Jazz and often compared to the top singers of her era in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
“To me she was Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughan all rolled into one”, iconic Vancouver radio host Red Robinson wrote saying she “lit up our city by her very being”. Vancouver Sun celebrity columnist Jack Wasserman said, “She could start fires by rubbing two notes together!”
Collins started singing on the CBC Radio in the late 1930s and by the early 50s was starring
on CBC TV. She was one of the first Black artists in North America to host her own national
music variety program – The Eleanor Show. Ten years later she hosted another show simply called
Her talent invited the spotlight. Less known was her sense of social justice and role
as a community builder. In the late 1940’s her young Black family moved to Burnaby and met
with a neighbourhood petition designed to freeze them out.
Unfazed by the prejudice, she immersed herself and her family in the community. “I
encouraged students in music education; I joined the PTA and United Church Choir; I sang at
the Children’s Hospital, in provincial prisons and to help support a myriad of charities and civic
organizations,” she said. “It was my hope that I could help bridge the erroneously perceived
differences that divide people instead.”
Collins marking her 100th birthday in 2019. (Ben Helms/ CBC photo)
It was that kind of faith and innate understanding of how to make change that –
alongside a prodigious musical talent – earned Collins an Order of Canada recognition in 2014.
And last year, at the age of 102 Canada Post honoured her with a postage stamp.
Her daughter, Judith Maxie, says, “This remarkable woman – who along with being an accomplished music artist – was also an absolutely devoted wife, mother and activist. It might be said she was doing it all, way before her time. Curiously, in our home she always put family first and there was really little talk of her professional life. But you could definitely say there was a soundtrack to our lives.”
In a 1988 CBC TV interview (Vancouver’s 1st Lady of Jazz: Then and Now) Collins commented on fame saying, “It’s lovely to be famous but what do you do when you take off the make-up and you look at yourself in the mirror and you remember you have youngsters at home and you wonder what they are doing? Well, you know, I could never take that … it’s not something big that I did..it was just the automatic thing for me.”
Collins remains in Canada with no regrets. She lives in the Guildford neighbourhood of Surrey, BC.
A family photo from the 60s by Franz Lindner
With the issue of the Canada Post stamp interest in Collins has grown. “Since the international release of the stamp we have heard from people in the U.S., Germany, England, the Philippines and many more… we are pleased that the tiny postage stamp has introduced so many to a life size story of an early trailblazer,” says Maxie.
Here are a few interesting glimpses of Collins through the years on TV, Twitter and in a comprehensive essay by writer and researcher Christine Hagemoen in her vanalogue blog.
The following items are short news summaries and feature Collins being interviewed, singing live in concert and brief excerpts from some of her TV appearances.
Eleanor Collins: Jazz Legend of Canada (5.09 mins)
Eleanor Collins: Canada’s First Lady of Jazz Turns 100 (5.03)
Vancouver’s 1st Lady of Jazz: Then and Now 1988 (5.32)
Receiving the Order of Canada in 2014 (2.12 min)
12-SONG ALBUM BY MOTHER OF PEARL: She Bop! A Century of Jazz Compositions by Canadian Women featuring Collins on one track
Check out this comprehensive and excellent 2017 piece about Eleanor Collins by writer and researcher Christine Hagemoen in her vanalogue blog
Eleanor Collins in 1964
(ED. NOTE: Many thanks to Eleanor Collins’ daughter, Judith Maxie for her invaluable assistance on this post)
Stay tuned and enjoy,
11 February 2023