Stories of Girls Making a Difference

Biography of Portia May White

Picture of Portia May White

Name: Portia May White
Date: 1911 - 1968
Role: Classical singer, teacher
Girlhood achievement: Paving the way for women in music

In 1917, six-year-old Portia joined her father's church choir in Halifax. By age eight, she'd learned the soprano role in the opera Lucia di Lammermoor. She made her singing debut the same year on Canadian radio. In 1928, she received a scholarship to the Halifax Conservatory of Music and won the silver cup in the Nova Scotia Music Festival.

A lifelong singer, Portia made her adult singing debut in Toronto in 1941. She became the first African-Canadian singer trained only in Canada to achieve international fame, despite the racism she faced in booking concerts. She toured North and Latin America before returning to Toronto to teach music to children.

In 1995, the Government of Canada declared Portia a person of historical significance. In Truro, Nova Scotia, a plaque is dedicated to her. Nova Scotia has instituted a special arts award in her memory – the largest award of its type in the province.

Portia May White – a history-making Canadian girl and a great Canadian woman.

Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

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