Though dead for nearly six years, iconic pianist Oscar Peterson’s star still shines brightly.
Last Saturday, he was among the first set of Canadians inducted into Mississauga’s Legends Row.
Each year, the city will celebrate the accomplishments of eminent Mississaugans – past and present – in several fields, including philanthropy, athletics, public service, arts & culture and entertainment & media.
These outstanding citizens will be profiled with a descriptive plaque of their achievements on Legends Row that will also display commemorative interpretative profiles of the 11 small communities that made up the City of Mississauga at its amalgamation in 1974, including the pioneers who influenced the city’s early growth and development.
Raised in Little Burgundy in Montreal, Peterson died of kidney failure at his Mississauga home in December 2007.
Though the renowned pianist and composer travelled the world extensively regaling audiences with his keyboard brilliance in a celebrated career that spanned six decades, Mississauga was always Peterson’s home.
“He was often encouraged to move to the United States, London and Geneva,” said his widow, Kelly Peterson. “But he always said Canada is his home, particularly Mississauga. He loved Canada and never forgot about home…It’s really thrilling that he’s among the inaugural inductees.”
Oscar Peterson Public School Grade five student Kayla Fernandez presented the Legends Row crystal to Kelly Peterson.
Juno award-winning bassist and composer Dave Young, whose association with Peterson began in Banff in 1974, shared some of his fond memories of Peterson who Duke Ellington once referred to as “The Maharajah of the Keyboard”.
“He was certainly ‘The Maharajah of the Piano’, not only to the Duke but also a lot of piano players who knew him at the height of his career,” said Young. “I think that Oscar had so much talent that he did not need to practice a lot. But I know from personal conversations with him how much he practiced to perfect his craft.”
Peterson and Young first met 39 years ago at a one-week jazz workshop at the Banff Centre.
“We spent the week together performing before going our separate ways,” recalled Young. “About two months later, Oscar called me and we travelled the world as a duo for the next six months. We played together for almost 30 years. He was a great guy and a real Canadian who always looked forward to coming back home. Oscar also always had an interest in local musicians and the music scene in Canada.”
Peterson, whose daughter Celine also attended the event, recorded over 200 albums, won seven Grammy Awards, received 16 honorary doctorates from universities in the United States and Canada, including York University where he served as chancellor, and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1984.
Nine years ago, Canada Post issued a stamp to honour Peterson, marking the first time that a living person – other than the reigning monarch – had been recognized with such an honour. In July 2010, Queen Elizabeth II, who Peterson performed for at Roy Thomson Hall 11 years ago during the Golden Jubilee Gala Concert, unveiled a bronze sculpture of the member of jazz royalty at Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Other Legends Row inductees were rower Silken Laumann who won a silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, hockey players Paul Henderson and Johnny Bower, country music performer Tommy Hunter, philanthropist Dr. Joseph Wong, community builders and leaders Chuck Jackson and Bruce McLaughlin, South Asia-style dancer Lata Pata and Canadian hard rock trio, Triumph.
“It’s exciting to showcase Mississauga’s very own superstars in a visible way for all to see,” said Mississauga Arts Council executive director, Linda Thomas. “I am sure many will not have realized the great talent that is from Mississauga, a city that has a thriving and dynamic arts scene. There are incredible stories behind the names being presented and we can only hope that the presentation will intrigue all to explore these stories.”
Legends Row will be temporarily located in the north west corner of Celebration Square.
Peterson will receive yet another accolade when he’s inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame on Saturday at the Elgin Theatre.
This year’s inductees bring the total of honourees to 151 since the Walk of Fame was established. Previous inductees include Harry Jerome, who set seven world track records and helped create Canada’s sports ministry before passing away in 1982, and Canadian Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, Ferguson Jenkins.