Joe Sealy had much to celebrate in 2009. The Canadian jazz pianist and composer extraordinaire released his latest album, Songs, a few weeks after his 70th birthday last August. And, last week, Sealy was appointed to the Order of Canada for his outstanding contributions to the arts and his Juno award winning release, Africville Suite, which was dedicated to Canada’s oldest Black community.
“I am very honoured to be in the same company with so many other distinguished Canadians,” said Sealy whose son, Kevin – his stage name is K.C. Lee – is the front man for the hard rock/alternative band, Persist, and the vocalist for the high energy Blues and rock ‘n’ roll group, The Mercenaries.
Historian and curator Dr. Sheldon Taylor said the recognition has been a long time coming.
“Joe is one of the leading musicologists in Canada and he has always had this talent that he’s now being honoured for,” said Taylor. “He knows music and he’s trained and because of that, he has been able to make the type of contributions to Canada that few others can do…Because he understands his history as a Black person growing up in Canada, he has also been able to successfully combine his talents with his capabilities.”
Sealy was part of Taylor’s exhibit, Many Rivers to Cross: The Toronto Journey 1900-1950, that was displayed last year at the historic St. Lawrence Hall. It was part of the Many Rivers to Cross: The African Experience exhibition that the Multicultural Society of Ontario opened in 1991.
Born in Montreal, the multi-talented musician received his early training from Daisy Peterson, the sister of the late jazz great Oscar Peterson, Bob Langlois and Darwyn Aitken and played with bands in Quebec before relocating to Halifax in 1967 where he served as music director/consultant on some of the hit CBC-TV shows, including Music Hop, Student Showcase and Roundabout.
Sealy came to Toronto in 1976 and was the musical director for several home-grown musicals during the 1980s. They included Spring Thaw, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Indigo, Lady Day, More Sweet Reason, One More Stop and Madame Gertrude.
He also accompanied several top American musicians such as Joe Williams, Milt Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr. and Sonny Stitt and in 1979 toured the United States with the pop and jazz rock outfit, Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Sealy created a 12-piece musical tribute to Africville, his father’s birthplace, which was established in 1838 when descendants of American slaves settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (The community was razed by the city when the land was expropriated in 1967.) He was also the music director for the 2004 “Tonya Lee Williams Gospel Jubilee” television show and the CBC Radio “Words and Music Special: East Coasting.”
The host of the weekly Jazz FM 91 radio show, “Joe Sealy’s Duets”, collaborated with Paul Novotny to produce his latest album, Songs, a warm and elegant collection of stories and performances featuring vocalists Jackie Richardson, Jully Black, Ranee Lee, Dan Hill, Danny Balaka and Barbra Lica.