Portia May White (b. June 24, 1911), was a singer who achieved international fame because of her voice and stage presence. As a Black Canadian, her popularity helped to open previously closed doors for talented blacks who followed.
Portia White was born in the town of Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada, to Reverend William Andrew White and Izie Dora White,and was the third child in a family of 13. She made her musical debut at the age of six in her father's church choir. At the age of 17, while she was teaching school in Lucasville just outside of Halifax, she received her first break, winning a silver cup in the Nova Scotia Music Festival. From this experience, she qualified and received a scholarship from the Halifax Ladies Music Club, so she could attend the Halifax Conservatory of Music.
One of the great contralto vocalists in the history of Canadian classical music, Portia made her debut on the national stage in Toronto in 1941. By 1944 she had made her international debut in New York City and later toured the world. When a rasp in her voice appeared, it forced her to retire. She settled in Toronto and taught some of Canada’s foremost pop singers of the day.
Portia White was asked to perform for Queen Elizabeth II, at the opening of the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in 1964. This was to be one of her last major concerts.
Her brother Bill was the first Canadian of African heritage to run for political office in Canada, standing as a candidate for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in the 1949 election, and her brother Jack was a noted Canadian labour union leader. In addition to Bill's children, politician Sheila White and folk musician Chris White, Portia White was also the aunt of Senator Donald Oliver and playwright George Elliott Clarke.
Also of note was her youngest brother, R. Lorne White, who was on the national television show, Singalong Jubilee which launched the career of Anne Murray.
Portia White has been declared "a person of national historic significance" by the Government of Canada, and she was featured in a special issue of Millennium postage stamps celebrating Canadian achievement.
She died in 1968.
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White, Portia, 1911-1968
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