Celebrating Black History Month – Archie Alleyne

Written by Brian Omran, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections practicum student

The Clara Thomas Archives holds a number of fonds that document the lives of Black Canadians. This year for Black History Month, we will be highlighting two of our newer acquisitions, beginning with Toronto jazz drummer Archie Alleyne.

Photo by Flickr user ataelw (CC BY 2.0)

Born in Toronto in 1933, Alleyne began playing in music clubs across Toronto in his 20s. While performing at these venues, he rubbed shoulders with other great jazz musicians like Billie Holiday and Oliver Jones. With the latter, Alleyne would become an international artist, touring countries across Africa and the Caribbean.

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Not only was he a talented musician, Alleyne was also the co-owner of The Underground Railroad Restaurant, a Toronto soul food restaurant, and a fervent activist for the musical arts. He fought for Black representation in the Toronto Jazz Festival and to have jazz musicians included in the Canada Council for the Arts’ funding. He also founded the not-for-profit Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund to help support young musicians pursue jazz studies at an academic level.

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For his accomplishments in music and activism, Alleyne received the Order of Canada and the Toronto Musicians’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

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Archie Alleyne passed away in 2015 at the age of 82. By all accounts, he led a rich life and always worked to help others wanting to pursue their passions for jazz. Alleyne was a truly talented drummer whose achievements and desire to help his community will be remembered by future generations.

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The Archie Alleyne fonds contains a variety of material pertaining to Alleyne’s long music career, the Underground Railroad restaurant, his philanthropy and activism. These materials include photographs, event posters and tour ephemera, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, correspondence, research files relating to Toronto-area jazz musicians, scholarship files, drafts and research for his memoir (Colour Me Jazz: The Archie Alleyne Story), video recordings of performances, and audio recordings of interviews with jazz musicians. All shine a light on Alleyne’s life and career, offering insights into not only his personal story, but also the history of jazz music in Canada.

More about Archie Alleyne:

The Life and Times of Archie Alleyne, Toronto’s Greatest Jazz Drummer

Ross Porter interviews Archie Alleyne

Archie Alleyne on his career in jazz  (Heritage Toronto)

Archie Alleyne & The Evolution of Jazz Ensemble

Archie Alleyne playing with the Don Thompson Quintet

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