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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

The Arts

In recent years, there has been an attempt, most notably seen by the formation of the Black Pioneer Descendants' Society, to educate and commemorate the many contributions and achievements of Black pioneers in Western Canada. This section will discuss the importance of the arts and, more specifically, it will demonstrate how music and literature educates young and old alike about the accomplishments of Alberta’s Black pioneers.

The Black Pioneer Heritage Singers, for example, use the stirring sounds of traditional Black gospel music to tell the stories of Black settlers in Alberta, often with a religious overtone. Secular music, namely jazz and soul, has also had a profound impact on the Black experience in Alberta. In Edmonton, during the 1970s, Clarence “Big” Miller’s big band jazz sound became extremely popular among locals. Miller a singer and trombonist, had the opportunity to play with some of America’s leading jazz musicians including, most notably, Louis Armstrong. Miller also found success abroad. In 1978, he sang with the Tommy Banks Big Band in Switzerland. An avuncular figure, Miller taught music courses at Grant MacEwan College sharing his talent and wordly experiences with students. Melvin Crump, an accomplished jazz musician, played for numerous jazz outfits in Calgary and Edmonton. Drawn to music by his talented cousins Eddie and Les Bailey, Crump played with the Proctor Swingsters in the 1970s. An accomplished drummer, Crump also played with Kashmir's Jazz Jam.

Stories of Alberta’s Black pioneers have been told in various published and unpublished books, articles, journals, and family histories. The Window of Our Memories, Volumes I and II, compiled by Velma Carter, Wanda Leffler Akili, and Leah Suzanne Carter, provides unique insight into the lives of Black pioneers and their descendants, as told by various contributors. Incorporating historical photographs, such compilations are essential tools for educating those interested in the legacy of Alberta’s Black pioneers. Cheryl Foggo, an accomplished writer, editor, and filmmaker, has produced chronicles of her ancestors’ journey from the United States to Canada.

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††††††††††† For more on Black settlement in Alberta, visit Peelís Prairie Provinces.

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