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Jazz piano icon Oscar Peterson honored with Canadian dollar coin

The Oscar Peterson gold commemorative coin
Royal Canadian Mint
The Oscar Peterson gold commemorative coin

Oscar Peterson spent most of his musical career in the U. S., but remained proud of his Black Canadian heritage.

On August 15, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a commemorative Canadian dollar coin to honor Peterson's musical legacy. He is the first Canadian musician to appear on a circulation coin.

The jazz pianist and composer was born in Montreal in 1925. He became a world-renowned musician and composer, winning Grammy awards, Juno awards and other national and international honors.

Called “the man with four hands” by Louis Armstrong, Peterson rose to the top of the jazz world through more than six decades of piano performances and over 200 recordings. Peterson died in 2007.

Other tributes to Peterson include a large mural of the pianist in the Sud-Ouest region of his hometown of Montreal in 2011. A statue of Peterson was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Last year, Peterson's life story was featured in Historica Canada's "Heritage Minute" video series.

Designed by Canadian illustrator and comic book artist Valentine De Landro, the commemorative coin features Peterson playing the piano and musical notes from the last two bars of his 1962 composition "Hymn to Freedom," which became an anthem for the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The Oscar Peterson dollar coin is limited to a mintage of three million coins, two million of which feature a purple accent, Peterson’s favorite color.

The coin was unveiled on Thursday, August 11, 2022, before family and friends gathered in Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, a venue where Peterson performed often. It began circulating on August 15, to coincide with Peterson's 97th birthday.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.