Jackie Washington

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Blues singer/songwriter, legendary in his Canadian homeland.
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Born in 1919 in Hamilton, Ontario, Jackie Washington grew up in Hamilton's sizable black community, and was performing music from age five. He was later a member of the Washington Brothers -- consisting of Jackie and his siblings Ormsby, Harold, and Doc -- whose sound was heavily influenced by that of the Mills Brothers during their eight years together through the end of the 1930s. Washington left music as a profession during the 1940s, though by the end of the decade he was working as a disc jockey, and was singing in nightclubs during the 1950s. Washington's debut album as a blues artist, Blues and Sentimental, was released on the Knight II (the name of a local coffeehouse where Washington regularly performed) label in 1976. He played at folk and blues festivals throughout Canada -- never venturing south of the border into the United States, where his grandparents had been slaves -- and had a total of 1,200 songs at his fingertips. The totality of Washington's work also transcended the the folk and blues scene, bringing him into contact across the decades with Duke Ellington, Clark Terry, and Lionel Hampton, among other jazz giants, as well as Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Lonnie Johnson in blues. He continued to perform and record blues over the years, including a number of albums released by the Borealis label -- Where Old Friends Meet (with Mose Scarlett and Ken Whiteley, 1991), Keeping Out of Mischief (1995), Midnight Choo Choo (1998), We'll Meet Again (with Scarlett and Whiteley, 1999), Sitting on a Rainbow (with Scarlett and Whiteley, 2003) -- and he was the subject of the 1996 biographical book More Than a Blues Singer: Jackie Washington Tells His Story. Washington took on the role of elder statesman in Canada's jazz, blues, and folk music communities -- especially in Ontario -- and, in his eighties, still performed occasionally in the early 2000s, although he was in poor health and suffered from diabetes (losing a leg to the disease). In 2002 Jackie Washington was inducted into the Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame. He died in June 2009 in his lifelong home of Hamilton at the age of 89.