It was with a heavy heart that Brainerd Blyden-Taylor accepted the Planet Africa Heritage Award last Saturday night.
The Nathaniel Dett Chorale he founded in 1998 is on life-support and in desperate need of a cash infusion.
“The economy is tough and for an ensemble like us, I think it comes down to having the kind of board directors that are connected, understand the art form and what is necessary to support the group,” said the Trinidad & Tobago-born artistic director and conductor.
Inspired by Canada’s first Black composer, Nathaniel Dett, who explored and promoted Black music by editing collections of spiritual and folk songs, Blyden-Taylor established the group as a professional ensemble dedicated to the dissemination of Afrocentric choral music. Over the past 14 years, the ensemble has performed throughout Canada and the United States and at the 2004 Pollyfolia Choral Festival in France.
With funding scarce, last week Blyden-Taylor was forced to turn down an opportunity for the group to perform at the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts in January. They could also miss out on appearances at the upcoming Detroit Spiritual Festival and North Dakota State University symposium.
“We will have a limited season this year,” said the former conductor of the Orpheus Choir of Toronto. “We will do at least two concerts in Toronto this year which we are required to do. I have some folks who have promised to help me in the restructuring process and I am still recruiting. We also do a lot of community give-backs, but I can’t ask my singers to do those when I am actually not employing them to do the other things. So everything suffers when we can’t have a solid base.”
Bestowed with an honorary doctorate by York University three years ago and the Beautiful Feet Award at the eighth annual Choirs & Groups celebration last June, Blyden-Taylor said he was honoured to be recognized with a Planet Africa award.
“It’s been quite a journey and to have the work we have done being honoured means quite a lot,” said Blyden-Taylor. “I hope this can be the springboard for us to press the reset button and keep going.”
Blyden-Taylor was not the only person of Trinidad & Tobago descent to be acknowledged with a Planet Africa Award.
Rev. Alvin Nicholson, who migrated in 1993 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of Divinity from the West Indies School of Theology six years ago, was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It’s a great feeling to know that my body and volume of work is appreciated,” said Nicholson, who is the senior pastor at Agape Ministries, which he started in 1996.
A member of the Canadian Coalition of Apostles, Nicholson served as chair of Mission GTA – a multi-ethnic network of churches in the Greater Toronto Area – for four years and as the executive director of the African-Canadian Christian Network. He’s also a member of the Jane-Finch Church Coalition and the Elders’ Council of the African Union 6th Region Canada.
Other award recipients (and the name of their awards in parenthesis) were Senator Don Meredith (Nelson Mandela), National Bank Financial Managing Director, Ray Williams (professional excellence); Dream Maker Realty President and Chief Executive Officer, Isaac Olowolafe (enterprise); actress and television producer, Vivica Fox (media); Grace Kennedy & Co. Ltd. Chair, Douglas Orane (leadership); Black Health Alliance President, Dr. Christopher Morgan (Marcus Garvey); Ryerson University associate professor and activist, Dr. Grace-Edward Galabuzi (African Renaissance); Olympian bobsledder, Shelley-Ann Brown (sports & athletics); actor & humanitarian, Zach Orji (entertainment); Council of Caribbean Associations Canada President, Frances Del Sol (volunteer of the year); renowned scientist, Dr. Abraham Katampe (science & technology); actor & producer, Majid Michel (rising star); Black Business & Professional Association President, Pauline Christian (development); and Carleton University student, Geoffrey Kasonde (academic achievement).
Dr. Julius Garvey was presented with the African Legend Award honouring his father, the late Marcus Garvey; while Charlie Roach’s widow – June Thorne-Roach – received the Special Community Icon Award for her late husband, who passed away last month.
Diversity Awards were also presented to Toronto Police Deputy Chief, Peter Sloly; Canada’s first Black senator, Anne Cools; Markham Mayor, Frank Scarpitti; Royal Bank of Canada Regional President of Greater Toronto, Jennifer Tory; businesswoman & philanthropist, Belinda Stronach and 2011 South Asian Person of the Year, Harpreet Sethi.
By RON FANFAIR