SOCAN is mourning the loss of Salome Bey, the American-born, Canadian singer-songwriter, composer, actress, and SOCAN member who has died at the age of 86.
Born in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, Bey sang with her brother Andy and sister Geraldine as Andy & the Bey Sisters across the U.S., Europe, and Canada, before re-locating to Toronto in 1964. A larger-than-life figure whose artistic output and influence was felt around the world, in both music and theatre, her list of multi-disciplinary achievements was unprecedented, and included two album projects with Horace Silver; two Dora Mavor Moore awards for Indigo, a history of Black music that she conceived, wrote, and starred in; a Grammy nomination for Your Arms Too Short to Box with God for Best Cast Recording; and an Obie Award for Justine. Bey was made an Honourary Member of the Order of Canada in 2005.
Andy and the Bey Sisters recorded and released albums on the RCA Victor and Prestige record labels. Their debut self-titled album was produced by iconic country music star Chet Atkins, and the group was featured in the Chet Baker documentary Let’s Get Lost. After moving to Toronto and playing the jazz club circuit, Bey became known as “Canada’s First Lady of the Blues.” She appeared on Broadway in Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, and later put together a cabaret show on the history of Black music, Indigo, which was eventually filmed for TV and aired on Superchannel, and later on CBC. Bey also released live albums of her performances with the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, and of performances at the at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival. Hip-hop producer Larry Smith (Run-DMC) played bass for Bey during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
As part of Northern Lights, Bey contributed vocals to the 1985 charity single “Tears Are Not Enough,” alongside Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Burton Cummings, Bryan Adams, Bruce Cockburn, Geddy Lee, and Kim Mitchell, to raise funds for relief of the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia. Bey consistently mentored up-and-coming artists, and her musical theatre work Rainboworld provided a foundation for young artists to develop their skills through music, dance, and theatre. She nurtured an extensive list of Black Canadian artists, such as Deborah Cox, Divine Brown, Orin Isaacs, Simone Denny, and Shantall Young, among many others. In 1992 she received the Toronto Arts Award for her contributions to the performing arts, and in 1996 she received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal.
Bey’s holiday special Salome Bey’s Christmas Soul aired on CBC and featured guests Maureen Forrester, Billy Newton-Davis, Molly Johnson, Jackie Richardson, and the Faith Chorale Gospel Choir. She continued to appear in concert, often appearing with her daughters tUkU and SATE who, with other musicians, were known as Salome Bey & the Relatives. Bey started showing signs of dementia in 2004 and had been residing at the Lakeside long-term care facility until her eventual passing. In 2018, she was celebrated in the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women project created by The Honourable Jean Augustine. Bey’s late husband, Howard Berkeley Matthews, was one of the original founders and co-owners of The Underground Railroad, a historic eatery in the Black community from 1969 to 1979.
Bey is survived by her three daughters: singer SATE and singer/performance artist tUkU, and son Marcus Matthews, to all of whom SOCAN extends its deepest condolences at this difficult time.
To honor Salome Bey’s life and memory, her family kindly asks that you donate to The Freedom School Toronto (e-mail e-transfers can be sent directly to trustee firstname.lastname@example.org).