Eleanor Ruth Procter was born on November 21, 1919, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She was a Canadian jazz singer, television host, and civic leader, known as the “Canadian First Lady of Jazz.”

Her parents, of Black and Creole Indian heritage, were originally from the state of Oklahoma. As a child, Eleanor sang hymns, religious songs, and anthems, and was involved in the Shiloh Baptist Church in Edmonton. At the age of 15, she won a talent contest in Edmonton, after which she sang with Joe Macelli’s dance band, the Three Es, and on radio station CFRN.

In 1938, Eleanor relocated to Vancouver and began performing with the Swing Low Quartette, a gospel group. They performed on CBC Radio from

1940 through 1942. In 1945, she began singing with Ray Norris’s jazz quintet on CBC Radio’s “Serenade in Rhythm,” a program that ran for several years and was even broadcast to troops overseas.

From 1948 to 1952, she appeared at Theatre Under the Sun, a musical theatre, where she performed in “Finian’s Rainbow” (1952 and 1954), “Kiss Me Kate” (1953), and a staging of “You Can’t Take It With You.”

In 1954, she appeared on the CBC Vancouver TV program “Bamboula: A Day in the West Indies.” This was the first interracial cast in Canada and the first variety series produced in Vancouver. She was invited by CBC to star in her own show, “The Eleanor Show,” which ran from June 19 to September 11, 1955. This made her the first woman, the first person of color, and the first jazz singer to headline a show on national TV. This was followed by “Blues and the Ballad” and “Eleanor Sings the Blues,” both in 1960, “Were You There?” in 1961, and “Quintet” in 1962.

She starred in her second television program, “Eleanor,” which aired from February 1 to March 2, 1964, with the Chris Gage Trio providing musical backup. She also appeared on many radio and television programs throughout the 1960s and 70s, both on CBC and CTV, choosing to remain in Canada despite offers to move to the U.S.

(Citation—Eleanor Collins – Wikipedia)

Personal Life

Eleanor married Richard Collins in 1942, and they were married for 70 years. In 1948, they moved to Burnaby with their four children. Their family was the only black family in the neighborhood, which prompted their neighbors to start a petition to prevent them from moving in, but this was unsuccessful. Eleanor’s children were bullied at school, which led her to volunteer at school functions and teach music to the neighborhood Girl Guides.

(Citation—Eleanor Collins – Wikipedia and Eleanor Collins gives voice to strong sense of self – Vancouver Is Awesome)

What did Eleanor Collins do to change the World?

Eleanor Collins fostered the values of equality and acceptance. She is also recognized as a civic leader and a pioneer in the development of British Columbia’s music industry. One of the first black artists in North America to host a national, weekly television series, she is renowned for her career longevity as a jazz singer.

(Citation—Eleanor Collins: More than a Century of Black History! – BC Black History Awareness Society)

Member of the Order of Canada

Photo and styling: by Ghassan Shanti
Eleanor Collins, C.M.
Member of the Order of Canada, Awarded on May 8, 2014;
For her pioneering achievements as a jazz vocalist, and for breaking down barriers and fostering race relations in the mid-20th century.

Honours and Awards:

  • Distinguished Centennial Pioneer Award, City of Vancouver (1986)
  • Induction and Starwalk Star, BC Entertainment Hall of Fame (1992)
  • Sam Payne Lifetime Achievement Award, ACTRA (2006)
  • Member, Order of Canada (2014)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Black Canadian Awards (2014)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Black Women in Jazz (2015)
  • Award of Excellence, Black Cultural Research Society of Alberta

(Citation—Eleanor Collins | The Canadian Encyclopedia)

November 21,2014 in Ottawa on Mrs. Collins 95th Birthday, she was invested into the Order of Canada. 
Here is her official citation: 

Eleanor Collins, C.M. is a supremely talented vocalist who changed the face of race relations in mid-20th Century Vancouver. In 1948 she was ostracized upon moving into one of the city’s predominantly white neighbourhoods. She responded by fostering the values of equality and acceptance within her community — and consequently became a civic leader and pioneer in the development of British Columbia’s music industry. Celebrated for her extensive career as a jazz singer with CBC Radio and Television, she became the first Black artist in North America to host a nationally broadcast television series.

To Read More About Eleanor Collins: 

Meet Eleanor Collins — Canada’s first lady of jazz | CBC Radio 
Eleanor Collins: Profiles of Alberta Women : The Alberta Women’s Memory Project (athabascau.ca)
Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz – vanalogue (wordpress.com)
Surrey Schools honours Canadian jazz legend Eleanor Collins at Jazz Festival
Video: Eleanor Collins (2022) – Tribute video and stamp reveal (youtube.com)