Portia White (1911 – 1968)

Portia White
©Yousuf Karsh

Portia White was a world-famous operatic contralto. She was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, to Izie Dora, a descendant of Black Loyalists, and Reverend William A. White, the son of former slaves. At six, White joined the choir at her father's church. Following graduation from Dalhousie University, she divided her time teaching in Africville and training at the Halifax Conservatory of Music. In 1939, White won a scholarship to study with noted Italian baritone Ernesto Vinci. She made her Canadian debut at the Eaton Auditorium in Toronto in 1941, and in 1944, after many failed attempts based on her race and gender, booked and subsequently performed to widespread acclaim a recital at New York Town Hall. That same year, the Nova Scotia Talent Trust was formed to support White's burgeoning international singing career. In 1945, she signed with Columbia Concerts Incorporated, the largest artist agency in North America. White performed to adoring audiences in Europe and North America until 1952, when poor health forced her to retire.

“First you dream, then you lace up your boots.”

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