Lifetime awards for two outstanding Canadians
February 1, 2018
Joey Hollingsworth was the first Black male to appear on CBC television as a contestant in the ‘Pick the Stars’ entertainment series in the mid-1950s.
The tap dancer , who showed off his exceptional talent for the legendary Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson nearly a decade earlier, went on to dance on the Ed Sullivan Show in Las Vegas, CBC specials and other major events in Toronto to support the civil rights movement in the United States.
He was the featured performer in the Vegas-style show, ‘Simply Magic’, produced around illusionists Ken and Barbi Poynter and the dancing salesman for 18 years on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’, the 30-minute educational television series for children, that originated on CBC in1963.
Yet for all his ground-breaking achievements, Hollingsworth was recognized for the first time three years ago when the London Black History Month co-ordinating committee bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award on him.
Last Sunday, the 81-year-old tap dancer extraordinaire, singer and conga player was honoured with the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award at the organization’s Black History Month launch at the Metro Convention Centre.
“Toronto is the hub of Canada and to come here and get an award from the OBHS is huge for me,” said Hollingsworth who was raised by adopted parents in London. “This is the first time they are giving out this award and it means a lot for me to be the first recipient. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t get any better.”
Actress, filmmaker and model Linda Carter nominated Hollingsworth for the award.
“Back then, he was the only Black face on TV and I would call my friends to say he was on and we should all be watching,” she recounted.
Encouraged by his mother, Jeanne Hollingsworth, to learn to tap dance at age three, Hollingsworth met Robinson seven years later when he was in London in 1946 for a performance.
“I was backstage and he asked me to do a little step,” recalled the 2017 Jack Richardson Music Hall of Fame inductee. “I figured he was impressed because he asked me where I learnt to do that. That was a thrill of a lifetime.”
The octogenarian and his wife of over 30 years – Dolina Hollingsworth – reside in Hamilton. He has a son – Cairo Hollingsworth who is a Purolator employee – from a previous marriage.
Hollingsworth was the second Black person to appear on CBC television after Barrie-born jazz singer Phyllis Marshall who died in 1996 at age 74.
Raised in Toronto, the Runnymede Collegiate Institute graduate who Cab Calloway signed in 1947, sang in a variety television show the night CBC TV went on the air for the first time in 1952.
Sitting at Hollingsworth table at the annual brunch was Sally Houston who was honoured with an Lifetime Honourary Director Award.
“I knew of Joey because he was from London and I was in Owen Sound,” she said. “This is the first time I have seen him in over a decade. A few years ago, I tried to get him to come and perform at an OBHS Black History Month kick-off, but he was working on a cruise ship at the time.”
Houston, who celebrated her 81st birthday on January 25, was a board member for 17 years up until last year.
She joined the organization after retiring in 1996 from Richardson Greenshields of Canada which was acquired by Dominion Securities the same year. Royal Bank of Canada obtained 100 per cent ownership of Dominion Securities a few months later.
“I was with them for 20 years and when I left on the last day, I walked into the OBHS office which was a few blocks away and inquired if they needed help,” recalled Houston. “The office manager told me to sit down and offered me the opportunity to send out membership records and help with some of the files. I have enjoyed every moment with the organization and I still help out by doing some work for them from home.”
The fifth generation Canadian comes from a family with deep ties to Owen Sound where she was born and raised.
From around 1830 to the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865, escaped slaves made their way across the Canada-United States border through the Underground Railroad. Many of them ended up in Owen Sound which was the railroad’s last stop.
Escaping from Baltimore, Houston’s great-great-grandfather -- John Green -- reached Owen Sound in 1856 and married Mary Ann Gordon. Their first child, Thomas Green, was born six years later. Blessed with a wonderful tenor voice, he delivered ice and was a preacher at the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) church.
The 13th of 15 children was a teen disc jockey winner, one of the first Black drum majorettes in an all-girls band sponsored by Lady Cavell Lodge and the host of ‘Hit Parade’ on Friday nights on CFOS which is an AM radio station broadcasting from downtown Owen Sound.
When her application for a full-time position was turned down, she quit the station and applied to Richard, Bond & Wright which grew into one of the most important printing establishments in Canada.
“I hadn’t completed high school as yet, so the receptionist told me to do that and come back for a job that would be waiting for me,” related Houston whose parents – Russell and Gertrude Green – were married for 66 years.
The promise was kept and she spent six months in the typing pool before becoming a receptionist, making her one of the very few Blacks in Owen Sound at the time to hold an office job.
After nearly five and half years and in her early 20s, Houston moved to Windsor in search of a better job and a male companion.
“Most of the males around my age group in Owen Sound were somehow related to me, so I had to go elsewhere,” she laughingly pointed out.
Houston got her wishes.
She secured employment at Burroughs Adding Machine Company, working on the assembly line and was promoted to a front-office position a few months later.
Marrying Bob Houston in July 1962, the couple had the first of their four children five months later and relocated to Toronto.
Every year, Houston and her family return to Owen Sound for the Emancipation Festival and Picnic held annually since 1862 on the first weekend of August, marking the anniversary of the British Emancipation Act of August 1, 1834.
“I have missed just one and that was when my last daughter (Pam) was born,” she said. “My family in the Greater Toronto Area take time off from their jobs to drive up there and spend a fun weekend. Of course, they have never left me behind. Every visit brings back fond memories and I meet new relatives.”
Just before her husband passed away in 1991, Houston joined the Christ Church-St. James British Methodist Episcopal Church.
Established in 1845 as a place of devotion for Blacks who did not feel comfortable worshipping in mainstream churches, members assembled at 94 Chestnut St. for almost 105 years until the congregation could no longer maintain the building.
Granted use to share space with the Afro-Community Church at 460 Shaw St., the two congregations amalgamated a few years later and worshipped under the administration of Revs. Thomas Jackson and Alexander Markham.
After the building at 460 Shaw St. was destroyed by fire in April 1998, members worshipped at various churches until a new home was found in October 2001 at the current location at 1828 Eglinton Ave. West.
Houston served as assistant clerk and clerk and has been a longstanding choir member.