A legendary Canadian jazz pianist will be featured on a new mintage of $1 circulation coins, the Royal Canadian Mint has announced.
The coins commemorate Oscar Peterson, whom jazz great Louis Armstrong called “the man with four hands”.
The coin was unveiled to family and friends at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on Thursday and will go into circulation on August 15, Peterson’s birthday.
“For generations to come, people will be able to hold this coin in their hands,” said Peterson’s wife, Kelly Peterson. “I hope that they will remember Oscar or that it will inspire people to learn more about him.”
“The Mint is passionate about celebrating stories of extraordinary Canadians on its coins, and I am delighted that Oscar Peterson, the first Canadian musician to appear on a circulation coin, is being hailed as one of the world’s most respected and influential jazz artists of all time,” said Marie Lemay , President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint, in a press release.
“Mr. Peterson’s music and legendary performances have brought joy to millions of music lovers in Canada and around the world, and we are proud to honor him with this coin for his outstanding contributions to Canadian music and culture.”
Born in Montreal in 1925, Peterson became one of the most celebrated jazz musicians of all time. He made more than 400 recordings in his 60-year career and his famous Oscar Peterson Trio has performed around the world.
Peterson won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into Canada’s Music Hall of Fame in 1978. First nominated for the Juno Awards in 1977, he won Best Jazz Album in 1987 as The Oscar Peterson Four. He was also made a Companion of the Order of Canada by the late Governor-General Ramon Hnatyshyn.
Peterson died in 2007 at the age of 82.
A bronze statue of his likeness, complete with piano, stands in front of the National Arts Center in Ottawa.
The Oscar Peterson Circulation Commemorative Coin was designed by artist Valentine De Landro of Ajax, Ontario. The coin will be limited to a mintage of three million coins, of which two million will feature a purple accent – Peterson’s favorite color. Coins are found in Canadians’ change when bank branches replenish their stocks of $1 coins. Collector coins will also be available through the Royal Canadian Mint and its dealers.
“It fills me with great joy to know that Canadians at home and all visitors from abroad will have the opportunity to learn about an amazing figure in our nation’s history in the palm of their hand,” said Peterson’s daughter Celine Peterson. “I never imagined that my father would receive this recognition from the Royal Canadian Mint, because he is a father to me and always will be.”
Jazz pianist and composer Oliver Jones said the new $1 coin was a “huge achievement” for Peterson.
“If anyone deserves it, it’s Oscar. He worked so hard,” Jones, a close friend of Peterson, told CTV News Montreal.
“While I’ve traveled extensively all over the world over a period of 15 years – China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, all over Europe – every time they found out I was Canadian, people would ask me if I’d ever been an Oscar Peterson and then I had the pleasure of speaking about my idol.”
Jones receives a $1 cone with Peterson, adding that he “will appreciate this wonderful gift.”
The news that Peterson is the first black Canadian to have a coin in circulation dedicated to him is greatly appreciated in his hometown of Montreal.
“Oscar Peterson changed people’s lives and really brought joy and brought the best of us into the world,” said black rights advocate Michael Farkas. “Why not give him a subway, why not name a street. The same goes for Oliver Jones.”
Naveed Hussain proposed renaming Montreal’s Lionel-Groulx metro station in Peterson’s honor and thinks the coin is a good start.
“She defines Montreal; his music is vibrant, eclectic, energetic — it’s the soul of Montreal,” said Hussain. “It resonates with me so much, and that’s why I love Oscar Peterson’s music so much.”
Jones recalls his friend using his fame to push for rights and respect.
“He knew what he wanted, he worked very, very hard at his job and of course it wasn’t easy being black back then and whenever he ran into that problem he made sure to start at a fairly young age.” He wasn’t a person to be ignored, and rightly so,” Jones said. “It gave a lot of credibility to what he said and did.”
With files from CTV News Montreal