Black History Month Part Nine

Continuing with Black History Month, I would like you to meet Portia White.

Portia White, Canadian Opera Singer
English: Portrait of Canadian contralto opera singer, Portia White. Taken ca. 1945 by Yousuf Karsh.

Portia May White was born on June 24, 1911 in Truro, Nova Scotia, the third of thirteen children!

Her father, the son of former slaves from Virginia, attended Acadia University in Nova Scotia in 1903.  He became the university’s first black graduate.

Portia White embarked on her stellar singing career at six years old, at her father’s Baptist Church in Halifax. Before she began singing professionally, she supported her musical career by teaching in Africville, in black schools in Halifax County.  A decade later, she won a scholarship to pursue her musical training at the Halifax Conservatory, in 1939.  Soon thereafter, she made her professional début in Toronto, and then performed in New York City to rave reviews.

Portia White went on to international success.  She performed more than 100 concerts, including a command performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Edward Wodson, at the Toronto Evening Telegram, said White had a “coloured and beautifully shaded contralto all the way. . . . It is a natural voice, a gift from heaven.”

White has left quite the legacy in her home country.  For starters she has been declared “a person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada.  She was also featured in a special issue of Millennium postage stamps celebrating Canadian achievement.  And, the Nova Scotia Talent Trust was created in her honour, as was the Portia White Prize.

This Canadian Opera, Classical and Gospel singer died on February 13, 1968, at the age of 56, in Toronto, Ontario.

CBC’s Celebrating Portia White is definitely a must-see!


  1. “Karsh of Ottawa”: Now there’s a name and fame with a Canadian connection! I admired his work for decades. His portraits are direct, very intense, and capture the personality of the sitter so well there is no doubt who and what they are. His Churchill portrait captures the man better than any other image I’ve seen. I understand he got the scowl by taking the great man’s cigar away for the photo shoot. His Einstein is a classic everyone knows even if they don’t know who Karsh was.


  2. History so often appears to be skewed by the location where I have lived. Growing up in California, I learned little else other than that there were Missions up and down the coast (did not learn about the ones in AZ, NM, TX, or Mexico). Here in WV, history stopped in 1865, or let’s say our Civil War is still being fought on a symbolic level. In African-American here in the USA, the freedmen all went to Detroit and Chicago. I had never heard of any going further north, let alone Nova Scotia. Thanks for filling in some details.


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