Several curveballs have been tossed Measha Brueggergosman’s way and each time she has deflected the unpredictable deliveries.
Four years ago, the award-winning opera singer underwent open-heart surgery to repair an aortic tear. Initially diagnosed with high blood pressure after feeling numbness in her fingers, Brueggergosman was rushed to hospital the next day after complaining of severe chest pains.
She comes from a family with a history of cardiovascular disease. Her father has undergone quadruple bypass and his parents succumbed to heart disease.
The recipient of the Excellence in the Arts & Entertainment honour at last Saturday night’s 28th annual African-Canadian Achievement Awards, the soprano addressed the near-death experience.
“My aortic dissection taught me that the body wants what it wants,” she told Share. “You can appear to be stress free and you can claim that things are fine. I do have an extremely high tolerance for stress, but it will find a way if the pressure valve is not released to manifest itself. I have always had chronic high blood pressure. I know that in addition to my denial of stress, I also have this hereditary disposition.”
Brueggergosman, who performed the Olympic hymn at the 2010 Winter Games opening ceremony, has also had to contend with a marital separation and the loss of twins in pregnancy. Reconciled with her Swiss-born husband, who she met in high school in New Brunswick when he was an exchange student, she gave birth to a son last August.
“Motherhood is so weird,” said the former Canada’s Got Talent judge. “You first of all incubate this being in your body. It essentially takes over and you develop this whole other muscle that flexes and strengthens. It was a fascinating journey for me to develop this mother muscle. I am a loving person and I am enjoying this gift that’s our son.”
Born in Fredericton 35 years ago, Brueggergosman started singing in the local Baptist church at a young age and began voice and piano lessons at age seven.
She has given a royal command performance for Queen Elizabeth II and performed for many dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales, Nelson Mandela and former Canadian Governor General, Michaëlle Jean.
The winner of several awards, Brueggergosman attributes her success to her desire to fulfill goals.
“I feel that passion is a form of fidelity and a form of faithfulness to a pursuit,” said the 2008 Juno Award winner and University of Toronto music graduate, who spent five years in Germany, where she pursued a Master’s degree. “My father and sister were athletes, my brother is a pastor and my father has followed in his footsteps. There is a singularity to a pursuit in my family that kind of has a way of creating this focus. I have always been goal-oriented. I don’t know if I would call it passion. I think it would just be a sense of competition with myself that I will never just let go.”
She said she was extremely honoured to be recognized with an African-Canadian Achievement Award.
“This is pretty overwhelming,” said the African Medical & Research Foundation goodwill ambassador since 2007. “I am humbled and a little bit flabbergasted. These are the crazy bonuses you never expect after working, keeping your eyes on the prize and kind of running your own race. It’s also testament to the fact that, for better or worse, people are watching you. I am sometimes a little naïve about things like that. It’s however nice to know that someone was watching and it’s satisfying to enjoy a special moment like this with my family.”
Awards were also presented to accountant and entrepreneur, Marie English-Critchlow; community worker Raphaelita Walker – the mother of former Jamaican government minister, Olivia “Babsy” Grange – who came to Canada in 1963 and worked as an assistant housekeeper at the Sheraton Hotel and as a dressmaker at a downtown store before entering the health care field; Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education Dean, Dr. Gervan Fearon and new Ontario government minister, Michael Coteau.
“This is recognition not for me personally, but the work that I have been involved in over the last decade,” said Coteau, a three-term Toronto District School Board trustee who supported the establishment of an Africentric Alternative School. “I have worked with many good people to level the playing field and close the achievement gap for youths.”
Other award winners were Toronto Police Service chief Bill Blair, who was the recipient of the Founder’s Award for promoting diversity in his organization that includes two Black deputies and Canada’s first Black female Inspector; York Regional Police Inspector and ex-Association of Black Law Enforcers president, Chris Bullen; CP24 anchor, Nathan Downer; Nigerian-born chiropractor, Dr. Virginia Nsitem; Rhema Studies of Theology Association founding president, Everald Lewis and successful financial industry leader, Chuck Ealey, who quarterbacked the University of Toledo to 35 successive victories, which remains a National Collegiate Athletic Association record.
Unbeaten in his three years in high school in Portsmouth, Ohio, Ealey brought his winning ways to the Canadian Football League, leading the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to an 11-3 record and a Grey Cup title in his first year.
Fashion designer, Cherith Burke, was presented with the Youth Award while Canada’s first Black female Citizenship Court judge, Pamela Appelt, was the Lifetime Award recipient.