A Grade Seven dropout and self-taught musician has joined an illustrious group of Canadians as members of the Order of Canada.
Archie Alleyne, considered one of Canada’s premiere drummers, was among 66 nationals named last Friday to the Order established in 1967 to coincide with the centennial celebrations of Canadian Confederation.
This year’s esteemed group includes former Prime Minister Paul Martin, ex-lieutenant governor James Bartleman and Maytree Foundation president Ratna Omidvar.
“I was overwhelmed when I was contacted a few weeks ago,” said Alleyne who was the house drummer at the popular Town Tavern in the 1950s. “This is a great moment and my only regret is that my parents (his father was a Black railroad porter and his homemaker mother was White) are not around to celebrate the occasion with me because it would have meant a lot to them too. This honour is also for the members of my band (Kollage which he co-founded with the late Doug Richardson in 1999) and my community.”
Curator and historian, Dr. Sheldon Taylor, who has written Alleyne’s autobiography – Colour Me Jazz – which will be released shortly, said the 2011 Toronto Musicians Association Lifetime Achievement Award winner fully deserves the national accolade.
“Although he’s not a musician who reads (music), his contribution is in the same class with the late Oscar Peterson,” said Taylor. “One of the things I love the most about Archie is, despite his personal challenges, he has been consistent in terms of his commitment to young people.”
As a 70th birthday gift to Alleyne in 2003, close friends Howard Matthews and Paget Warner started the Archie Alleyne scholarship program. Some 17 students, including young Barbadian saxophonist, Joseph Callendar, who will soon begin music studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, have benefitted from the initiative which is administered by the Brandon Street Community Development Foundation.
Though enrolling in carpentry class to please his father, Alleyne spent most of his time playing the drums. He was one of the first Black musicians to secure regular work in Toronto clubs in an era dominated by White musicians.
Alleyne entered the business world in 1969, teaming up with former Toronto Argonauts stars Dave Mann and John Henry Jackson and entrepreneur Howard Matthews to establish the popular Underground Railroad Soul Food Restaurant in downtown Toronto. The restaurant changed ownership in 1982 before folding a few years later.
Alleyne is also an activist and advocate. He vehemently protested the Canada Council exclusion of jazz artists from funding that was reserved for classical artists and, in the mid-1980s, he successfully led a high profile lobby to ensure that Black musicians were represented in the Toronto Jazz Festival. As a proud Canadian, he lobbied festival programmers in the United States to include more Canadian musicians in their line-ups and appealed to Canadian companies to invest in the Canadian music scene through sponsorships.
Other notable Black musicians appointed to the Order of Canada include Joe Sealy, Oliver Jones, jazz vocalist Ranee Lee and the late great pianist Oscar Peterson.
More than 5,000 Canadians have been invested into the Order of Canada over the past 44 years. The appointments are made on the recommendation of an advisory council.
Officers of the Order of Canada are appointed for their “lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large”. while Members are recognized for “a lifetime of distinguished service in or to a particular community, group or field of activity”.
Recipients will be invited to accept their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.
By RON FANFAIR