One of Canada’s most respected jazz drummers is gone. Early in the morning on Monday (June 8), Archie Alleyne died at the age of 82 from prostate cancer.
Alleyne is survived by three daughters (Tyyra, Trinaa and Tessama) two sons (Aaron and Ronnie) four step-children, eight grandchildren (Jonah, Adrielle, Kayla, Robyn, Hyghly, Jenday, Nia, Kairi) a daughter-in-law, son-in-law and his partner of many years, Elvira Fernandes.
Born on January 7, 1933 and raised in Kensington Market, Archibald Alexander Alleyne was a self-taught drummer who broke colour barriers throughout the 1940s with his appearances in Toronto music clubs like the previously “whites only” Town Tavern at Queen and Yonge. While he eventually performed at virtually every happening joint in town, Alleyne was the Town Tavern’s house drummer between 1955 and 1966.
Renowned for his swing, bebop feel, and abilities as an improvisational musician, Alleyne worked hard to become the drummer of choice for visiting artists like Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, Lester Young and hundreds of Canadian jazz players and singers.
After an automobile accident in 1967, Alleyne left music behind to pursue other ventures. He partnered with entrepreneur Howard Matthews, and former Toronto Argonauts stars Dave Mann and John Henry Jackson, to establish the popular Underground Railroad Soul Food Restaurant in Toronto.
By the 1980s, he became an outspoken activist who vehemently protested the Canada Council of the Arts’ exclusion of jazz artists from funding, and successfully led a high-profile lobby to ensure black musicians were represented at the Toronto Jazz Festival. In 1999, he co-founded Kollage, the contemporary hard bop sextet with the late Doug Richardson. In 2001, he created the Evolution of Jazz Ensemble (EOJ) to provide mentorship and performance opportunities for young, primarily African-Canadian students graduating from post-secondary music programs.
By 2003, he established the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund (AASF) a not-for-profit organization to recognize and encourage academic excellence in jazz studies. At the end of 2011, he received the highest civilian recognition in the country, as a Member of the Order of Canada. He was also awarded the 2015 Harry Jerome Lifetime Achievement Award.
The launch of his Alleyne’s new memoir, Colour Me Jazz: The Archie Alleyne Story, was scheduled for June 14 at the Paintbox Bistro. This event has been postponed until further notice. A celebration of his life will be scheduled later this month, details of which will be announced on the website and Facebook pages of the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund.
Viewings for Archie Alleyne will be held on Wednesday, June 10 and Thursday, June 11 between the hours of 2 pm and 4 pm and 6 pm and 9 pm at The Cardinal Funeral Home at 366 Bathurst.
In lieu of flowers, the Alleyne family has requested that donations be made to the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund. The family would also like to acknowledge Archie’s son-in-law, Bruce Wilson, who died earlier this year, and the following families: the Downes, the Jones, the Jacksons and the Matthews.
There is also a social media campaign to commemorate Alleyne’s memory, with the official hashtag tribute #withoutthepastthereisnofuture.
BY VISH KHANNA JUNE 9, 2015