Phyllis (Irene Elizabeth) Marshall. Singer, actress, b Barrie, Ont, 4 Nov 1921, d Toronto 2 Feb 1996. She studied piano as a child and was known as a track athlete, but made her debut at 15 as a singer on radio station CRCT, then performed with Jack Arthur
and on CBC radio with Percy Faith
. Her first nightclub engagement was at Toronto's Silver Slipper, September 1938, with the Canadian Ambassadors. Encouraged by the CBC announcer Byng Whitteker to sing blues and jazz, she performed during the 1940s with various Toronto dance bands (including an 18-month stint at Toronto's Park Plaza Hotel 1943-44), with her own trio, and on tour 1947-8 in the USA with the Cab Calloway Orchestra. A contemporary of Eleanor Collins
among early black performers on the CBC, Marshall appeared 1949-52 on radio's 'Blues for Friday' (later 'Starlight Moods') and starred on TV's 'The Big Revue' 1952-4, 'Cross-Canada Hit Parade' 1956-9, and other shows. She performed with Canadian jazz notables including Oscar Peterson and Bert Niosi, and also starred in the Canadian National Exhibition grandstand show. She performed in England on BBC TV in 1959 (The Phyllis Marshall Special
) and again in 1964 in nightclubs. Her LP That Girl
(1964, Cap FS-614), recorded in the company of US jazz stars Buck Clayton and Buddy Tate, captures Marshall's light, secure singing style and received a Juno Award
as 'good music product LP'. Marshall had earlier recorded for Monogram, 1949.
Her second career, as an actress, began in 1956 at Toronto's Crest Theatre and included dramatic and musical roles in stage, radio, and TV productions such as the revue Cindy-Ella (1964), CBC radio's 'The Amen Corner' (1970), and CBS-CTV's Night Heat in the mid-1980s. She continued to sing on occasion - eg, at the ACTRA Awards in 1977, and for Freedom Fest (Harbourfront) in 1988. Marshall is remembered as one of Canadian television's earliest stars, and as a pioneer among black Canadian performers.
Suzanne Thomas ,Betty Nygaard King
'That magic something on The Big Revue,' CBC Times, 8-14 Nov 1953
Frayne, Trent. 'No bottle tops, no props, now Phyllis wants to act,' Star Weekly, 16 Aug 1958
Franklin, Stephen. 'Phyllis Marshall's swinging comeback,' Weekend Magazine, 21 Nov 1964
Donkoh, Sam. "Marshall remembered with love," Share, 28 Mar 1996
Miller, Mark. The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada. Toronto, 2001