Salome Bey, Canada's First Lady of Blues, Dies at 86

The Grammy-nominated artist was a member of the Order of Canada
Salome Bey, Canada's First Lady of Blues, Dies at 86
Photo: Boris Spremo (via Toronto Reference Library)
Salome Bey — an American-born, Canadian singer-songwriter, composer and actress affectionately known as Canada's First Lady of Blues — has died. Bey's family confirmed that the award-winning artist passed away Saturday (August 8) in Toronto. She was 86.

Born in Newark, NJ, in 1933, Bey's career began as a member of Andy & the Bey Sisters, a vocal group with brother Andy and sister Geraldine that would go on to tour Europe and North America. A self-titled debut album, produced by Chet Atkins, saw release in 1961, and was followed by the Rudy Van Gelder-mastered 'Round Midnight in 1965.

Bey would move to Toronto in 1964 and would perform on the club circuit, soon earning her the nickname Canada's First Lady of Blues. In 1970, she released her self-titled solo debut, ahead of lending her lend vocals to a pair of albums from American jazz pianist Horace Silver (1972's Total Response and All).

Bey's work in musical theatre saw her release album Salome Bey Sings Songs from Dude in 1972 after a leading role in the Galt MacDermot production, while she would appear on Broadway in the stage production of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. For the latter, she would earn a Grammy nomination for her work on the cast album.

Bey's Indigo — a cabaret show on the history of the blues that she conceived, wrote and starred in — captured her a pair of Dora Mavor Moore awards. The production was later filmed for television, airing on CBC in 1984. Additional productions of her own include 1983's Shimmytime, 1985's Madame Gertrude and children's musical Rainboworld, which was presented at the Toronto Young People's Theatre in 1988.

Bey also lent vocals to 1985 charity single "Tears Are Not Enough," recorded to raise funds for the relief of the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia by a supergroup of Canadian artists that included Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Bruce Cockburn, Geddy Lee and more.

In 1992, Bey received the Toronto Arts Award for her contributions to the performing arts, and in 1996 would receive the Martin Luther King Jr. award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal. She was made an honorary member of the Order of Canada in 2005. In 2018, Bey was celebrated in the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women project.

Later career performances would find Bey appearing alongside her daughters tUkU and SATE as Salome Bey & the Relatives. 

Find tributes to the late artist below.