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Royal Canadian Mint launches new $1 coin featuring jazz legend Oscar Peterson


A legendary Canadian jazz pianist will be featured on a new run of $1 circulation coins, the Royal Canadian Mint has announced.

The coins will commemorate Oscar Peterson, dubbed “the man with four hands” by jazz great Louis Armstrong.

The coin was unveiled Thursday at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in front of family and friends and will enter circulation on Aug. 15, Peterson’s birthday.

"For generations to come, people will be able to hold this coin in their hands," Peterson's wife Kelly Peterson said. "It is my hope that they will remember Oscar, or that it will inspire people to learn about who he was."

“The Mint is passionate about celebrating stories of exceptional Canadians on its coins and I am delighted that Oscar Peterson, the first Canadian musician to appear on a circulation coin, is being celebrated as one of the world’s most respected and influential jazz artists of all time,” Royal Canadian Mint President and CEO Marie Lemay said in a news release.

“Mr. Peterson’s music and legendary performances have brought joy to millions of music lovers in Canada and around the world and we are proud to honour him, through this coin, for his exceptional contributions to Canadian music and culture.”

Peterson was born in Montreal in 1925 and became one of the most acclaimed jazz musicians of all time. He made more than 400 recordings in his 60-year career and his famous Oscar Peterson Trio performed around the world.

Peterson won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted in Canada’s Music Hall of Fame in 1978. A first-time Juno Awards nominee in 1977, he won Best Jazz Album, as The Oscar Peterson Four, in 1987. He was also made a Companion of the Order of Canada by the late Governor General Ramon Hnatyshyn.

Peterson died in 2007 at the age of 82.

A bronze statue of his likeness, complete with piano, stands outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

The Oscar Peterson commemorative circulation coin was designed by artist Valentine De Landro, of Ajax, Ont. The coin will be limited to a mintage of three million coins, two million of which will feature a purple accent—Peterson’s favourite colour. Coins will be found in Canadians’ change as bank branches replenish their stock of $1 coins. Collector coins will also be available for purchase through the Royal Canadian Mint and its distributors.

“Knowing that Canadians at home and anyone who visits from abroad will hold the opportunity to learn about a formidable figure in our nation's history in the palm of their hand, brings me an immense amount of joy,” said Peterson’s daughter Céline Peterson. “My dad being given this recognition by the Royal Canadian Mint is something I never would have even thought to imagine because to me, he is and always will be, dad.”

Jazz pianist and composer Oliver Jones said the new $1 coin is a "tremendous accomplishment" for Peterson. 

"If anyone deserved it, Oscar did. He worked so hard," Jones, a close friend of Peterson, told CTV News Montreal.

"While I travelled extensively during a 15-year period all over the world – China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, all throughout Europe - anytime people found out I was Canadian they would always ask me about have I ever met Oscar Peterson, and then I had the pleasure of talking about my idol."

Jones will receive a $1 cone featuring Peterson, adding he will "cherish this wonderful gift."

News that Peterson is the first Black Canadian to be commemorated on a coin in circulation is appreciated in his hometown of Montreal.

"Oscar Peterson made a difference in people's life and really brought joy and brought the best of us into the world," Black rights advocate Michael Farkas said. "Why not give him a metro, why not name a street. The same thing goes for Oliver Jones."

Naveed Hussain petitioned to rename the Lionel-Groulx Metro station in Montreal in Peterson's honour, and thinks the coin is a great start.

"It defines Montreal; his music is vibrant, eclectic, energetic – it's the soul of Montreal," Hussain said. "It resonates with me so much, and that's why I love Oscar Peterson's music so much."

Jones remembers his friend using his fame to push for rights and respect.

"He knew what he wanted, he worked very, very hard at his work and, of course, being a Black man in those days it was not easy and so whenever he ran into that problem he made sure that he started to do it at a pretty young age. He was not a person to ignore, and rightly so," Jones said. "It gave a lot of credibility to what he was saying and doing."

With files from CTV News Montreal Top Stories

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