Eleanor Collins, Canada’s ‘First Lady of Jazz,’ Dies at 104

When the singer and pianist Nat King Cole’s 15-minute variety show debuted on NBC in November 1956, he made history as the first Black American to host a television program. But just over the country’s northern border, another Black entertainer had him beat: In the summer of 1955, Eleanor Collins had her own show on the CBC, Canada’s national broadcasting network.

Though her show was a landmark in TV history — she was both the first woman and the first Black person to host a program in Canada — her selection was hardly a surprise.

By the mid-1950s, Mrs. Collins was already widely regarded as Canada’s “first lady of jazz,” known for her mastery of the standards and her commanding performances on radio, early TV specials and in nightclubs around Vancouver, where she lived.

“As a young man in the 1950s, having just started my radio career, I was mesmerized by Eleanor Collins,” the Canadian broadcaster Red Robinson wrote in The Vancouver Sun in 2006. “To me, she was Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughan all rolled into one. She had electric eyes and a voice to melt the hardest heart. I was in love with her.”

Mrs. Collins was at home in the intimate environs of the jazz club. She had a knack for reading the room — she could easily be the center of attention, but if audience members were more interested in one another than in her, she was equally adept at providing background music.

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