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Portia White, an Black Canadian classical singer, was born on this date in 1911.
Portia May White was born in the town of Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada to the Reverend William Andrew White and Izie Dora White. She made her musical debut at the age of six in her father's church choir. At the age of 17, while teaching school, she won 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, White made her debut on the national stage in Toronto in 1941 and achieved international fame. As an African Canadian, her popularity helped to open previously closed doors for talented blacks.
By 1944, she had made her international debut in New York City and later toured the world. When ill health 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 younger brother Bill White was the first Black person to run for political office in Canada, standing as a candidate for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in the 1949 election. Her brother Jack was a noted Canadian labour union leader. In addition to Bill's children, politician Sheila White and folk musician Chris White, she was also the aunt of Senator Donald Oliver and playwright George Elliott Clarke.
Portia White was 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. Portia White died on February 13, 1968.
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