A black Canadian contralto born in 1911 in Truro, Nova Scotia, Portia White swept the United States classical music scene during the 1940s and 1950s. She grew up singing in her church choir and took voice lessons underneath the tutelage of Bertha Cruikshanks at the Halifax Conservatory of Music. After initially teaching in public schools within the black Nova Scotian communities Africville and Lucasville, White began her musical career in 1941 at Toronto’s Eaton Auditorium. She then went on to tour the United States, gaining international acclaim and often being compared to the talented African American contralto, Marian Anderson. Her performances spanned across a range of venues, from New York’s prestigious Town Hall to private residences such as Mrs. Hendy D. Sharpe of Providence, RI. Due to vocal difficulties, she stopped publicly singing in 1952 and began teaching private voice lessons in Toronto, only occasionally reemerging in the spotlight to perform sporadically. Despite her brief career, White remains a key figure in scholarship regarding black Canadian artists. Her international acclaim is recognized today in the form of a postage stamp in her honor, a film documentary titled “Think of Me”, a monument in her hometown of Truro, and an award titled the “Portia White Prize for Artistic Excellence” given annually to a Nova Scotian artist who has significantly contributed to Nova Scotian culture but who is also recognized nationally and perhaps even internationally for his or her accomplishments.
-written by Felicia Bevel
Image Source (Top): Yousuf Karsh - George Eastman House Still Photograph Archive - 1946