Born in Newark, NJ, in 1933, Bey's career began as a member of Andy & the Bey Sisters, a vocal group with brother Andy and sister Geraldine that would go on to tour Europe and North America. A self-titled debut album, produced by Chet Atkins, saw release in 1961, and was followed by the Rudy Van Gelder-mastered 'Round Midnight in 1965.
Bey would move to Toronto in 1964 and would perform on the club circuit, soon earning her the nickname Canada's First Lady of Blues. In 1970, she released her self-titled solo debut, ahead of lending her lend vocals to a pair of albums from American jazz pianist Horace Silver (1972's Total Response and All).
Bey's work in musical theatre saw her release album Salome Bey Sings Songs from Dude in 1972 after a leading role in the Galt MacDermot production, while she would appear on Broadway in the stage production of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. For the latter, she would earn a Grammy nomination for her work on the cast album.
Bey's Indigo — a cabaret show on the history of the blues that she conceived, wrote and starred in — captured her a pair of Dora Mavor Moore awards. The production was later filmed for television, airing on CBC in 1984. Additional productions of her own include 1983's Shimmytime, 1985's Madame Gertrude and children's musical Rainboworld, which was presented at the Toronto Young People's Theatre in 1988.
Bey also lent vocals to 1985 charity single "Tears Are Not Enough," recorded to raise funds for the relief of the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia by a supergroup of Canadian artists that included Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Bruce Cockburn, Geddy Lee and more.
In 1992, Bey received the Toronto Arts Award for her contributions to the performing arts, and in 1996 would receive the Martin Luther King Jr. award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal. She was made an honorary member of the Order of Canada in 2005. In 2018, Bey was celebrated in the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women project.
Later career performances would find Bey appearing alongside her daughters tUkU and SATE as Salome Bey & the Relatives.
Find tributes to the late artist below.
We're hearing that the great Salome Bey has passed away.— Jazzcast.ca (@JazzcastTO) August 9, 2020
Although born in New Jersey, she made Toronto her home in the 60's and became part of our musical landscape.
Our best wishes and love to her family and friends. pic.twitter.com/Tf7iYGOajW
Growing up in #Ottawa in the 1970s #SalomeBey was a legend in our household... a veritable superstar. We were all so proud of her. We admired her talent and strength and dignity and conviction. She was one of us...ours. R.I.P.— Adrian Harewood (@CBCAdrianH) August 10, 2020
At the time other than #OscarPeterson, there weren't many Black Canadian entertainers that had the profile #SalomeBey had. She was a force of nature. Her personal power was like that of #MayaAngelou.She exuded dignity. My Dad feels she resembled #GraceBumbry in her bearing.— Adrian Harewood (@CBCAdrianH) August 10, 2020
In the early 1970s my parents attended a #SalomeBey concert @CanadasNAC in #Ottawa.After the show they went backstage, befriended Salome & invited her back to our house in Nepean for one of those funky basement-After-Parties that were de rigueur in the 70s.Of course Salome came!— Adrian Harewood (@CBCAdrianH) August 10, 2020
RIP Salome Bey, a voice often heard in our house growing up. Miigwetch for all of the amazing music and for being an inspiration to me and so many.— Jesse Wente (@jessewente) August 10, 2020
Now #SalomeBey leaves us 😢 Jazz & blues legend for sure, but theatre legend also: Spring Thaw, Indigo, Your Arm's Too Short To Box With God, and Once on this Island.— Ryan G. Hinds (@ryanghinds) August 9, 2020
I sang w/ Salome in Rainboworld and you could feel her warmth before she walked in the room. RIP, Earth Mother. pic.twitter.com/JiYZb7rust