Canada's Newest Coin Pays Tribute to Oscar Peterson |  CBC News

Canada’s Newest Coin Pays Tribute to Oscar Peterson | CBC News

Montreal pianist and jazz musician Oscar Peterson is honored with a commemorative coin released today.

Peterson, who died in 2007, was one of Canada’s most respected musicians and is remembered as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time.

The Royal Canadian Mint is issuing a commemorative $1 circulation coin to honor Peterson’s “extraordinary talent and lasting musical legacy,” it said in a statement.

“The whole city is finally going to realize that yes, we had the greatest pianist in the world who lived here in this country. And I’m so very, very proud that he was my friend,” said Oliver Jones, a co-worker and close friend.

Raised in Montreal’s Saint-Henri neighborhood, Peterson began playing for the predominantly immigrant and black communities on the city’s south side. Although Peterson achieved international recognition within a few years, he always maintained a connection to local talent and Canadian art.

Oscar Peterson was born in Montreal in 1925. He became a world-renowned musician and songwriter, winning Grammys, Junos and other national and international honors. (Herman Leonard/Herman Leonard Photography LLC)

The coin features Peterson playing the piano and sheet music corresponding to his 1962 composition Hymn to freedom which became the anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

There is also a $20 silver coin available through the mint.

Unbelievable success

Jones says having Peterson’s image on the coin is beyond what the two envisioned.

“Our fathers would never believe what we have achieved. And what an amazing feeling to see him honored like this.” Jones said.

Oliver Jones was Peterson’s close friend and musical collaborator. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Peterson died in 2007 after a career spanning more than 60 years. He is remembered as a technical genius of jazz who deserves his place among the greats.

“As a musician, I don’t think we’ll ever have another person with the impact of playing that represents the entire country. When we talk about Oscar Peterson, we’re talking about the greatest jazz pianist in the world,” Jones said.

Acknowledgment of Peterson’s legacy

The Royal Canadian Mint says the commemoration is a celebration of Canada’s fuller story.

“Our first intention was really to celebrate the tremendous musical and cultural legacy of Oscar Peterson. But it’s a welcome addition that we’re celebrating the tremendous success story of Canada’s black community.” said Alex Reeves, a spokesman for the Mint.

Kelly Peterson, widow of Oscar Peterson, at the unveiling of the new commemorative coin. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

In 2020, a petition to rename Lionel-Groulx after Peterson had over 25,000 signatures. In 2021, the city announced that it would create a public square named after the musician as part of the McGill College Avenue renovation.

The coin takes Peterson’s memory a step further by declaring his importance on the national stage, making him both the first black Canadian and the first performing artist to appear on a circulating coin.

“Oscar Peterson is Canada’s own,” said Reeves, “his legacy continues and transcends generations.”

The coin will begin circulation next Monday, August 15, which would have been Peterson’s 97th birthday.

For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians—from anti-black racism to stories of success in the black community—see Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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