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Portia May White (June 24, 1911 – February 13, 1968), was a singer who achieved international fame because of her voice and stage presence. As an African Canadian, her popularity helped to open previously closed doors for talented blacks who followed.[1]

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.[1] From this experience, she qualified and received a scholarship from the Halifax Ladies Music Club, so she could attend the Halifax Conservatory of Music.[2][3]

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.[2][3]

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.[2][1]

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.[1] 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 lauched the career of Anne Murray. Lorne was well know in Atlantic Canada as a teacher and later Vice Principal, and singer.[3] Along with youngest sister, Yvonne, who is said to have had an even more beautiful voice than Portia, but without receiving the same attention, and his family, The White Family did sacred concerts in the Maritime Provinces for 9 years during the 1980's and 90's, including a gala with Gordon Pinsent and David Foster in Halifax NS. Lorne received an honourary Doctor of Letters from Acadia University for his work in the Maritime Provinces and beyond.[2]

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.[3] Additional information: Her father was the first black man to graduate from Acadia University, the Nova Scotia Talent Trust was made in her honour, as well as the Portia White Prize. This family has had a significant impact on Canadian culture and life.[1]

See also

Music of Canada


  1. ^ a b c d e "100 Canadian heroines: famous and forgotten faces Pg.274". by Merna Forster (ISBN 1550025147).  
  2. ^ a b c d Women Musicians in Canada "on the record the Music Division of the National Library of Canada by C. Gillard. Ottawa : NLC, (1995) (ISBN 0775905178)
  3. ^ a b c d "Portia White 1911-1968". The Centre for Canadian Studies.  

External links



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