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June 30, 2009

Canadian Jazz Guitar Great Jackie Washington Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz news, obituaries, Canada

Jackie Washington

Jackie Washington
1919 – 2009

Washington One of Canada’s Most Beloved Jazz Figures

Hamilton, Ontario jazz guitarist and singer Jackie Washington has died at age 89. The esteemed musician died on Saturday, June 27th at Hamilton’s St. Joseph Hospital from complications resulting from a heart attack.

Washington last performed in public three weeks ago at McMaster’s Convocation Hall at an event held to thank him for donating a collection of his music, personal papers, photos and artwork to the university archives.

Born in Hamilton Nov. 12, 1919, Washington was one of 15 children born to Rose and John Washington; and the grandson of George, a runaway slave who found his way to Canada on the Underground Railroad.

Growing up in a musical home, Jackie made his first public appearances at the age of five, singing at the Bennetto School. He received his first guitar at age 13. During the depression, Jackie and three of his brothers formed the Washington Quartet, bringing extra money into the household by performing minstrel and popular songs in church halls.

Washington’s career took flight during the 1960’s when the thriving folk scene found him performing at the many coffee-houses in Southern Ontario. He shared the stage with the now legendary Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, David Clayton-Thomas, Lonnie Donegan, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and became a mentor to artists such as Tom Wilson, Stan Rogers, Jude Johnson, Amos Garrett, Murray McLauchlan and Paul Langille. He also appeared at folk festivals across the nation, performing at Hamilton’s Festival of Friends more than 25 times.

Over the years Jackie became well-known for his encyclopedic knowledge of old-time music (he boasted approximately 1,300 songs in his repertoire). The self-taught guitarist specialized in the popular songs of the ’30s and ’40s and was one of the top scat vocalists in the country.

He was also one of Canada’s first black broadcasters, working as a disc jockey playing jazz during the ’40s and ’50s for two Hamilton radio stations.

Washington recorded three solo albums, Blues and Sentimental (1976), Keeping Out of Mischief (1995) and Midnight Choo Choo (1998), as well as collaborating with Mose Scarlett and Ken Whiteley to release four albums.

In recent years, arthritis prevented him from playing his beloved guitar but Washington continued singing wherever there was an audience and was a much-loved member of the music community in his hometown and well-beyond.

Jackie Washington is a member of the Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame and held an honorary doctorate from McMaster University.

He is survived by his wife, Eleanor, their son, Michael, grandson Michael and great-grandson Miles.

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