Jackie Richardson, actor, singer (born 1947 in Donora, Pennsylvania). Jackie Richardson is an award-winning singer and actor whose career spans more than five decades. She has been called Canada’s reigning queen of jazz, blues and gospel, and has received a Maple Blues Award for lifetime achievement. She is also a Gemini Award and Dora Award-winning actor who has appeared in numerous musical theatre productions, films and television series. In 2014, the Toronto Star named Richardson one of 180 people who have helped shaped the city since it was founded. She was made an Honorary Member of the Order of Canada in 2021.
Richardson was born in a rural community south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She moved to Toronto with her parents and six siblings when she was seven. With encouragement from her grandparents, she began singing in the church in Pennsylvania where her grandfather was a deacon. Her father, Garrett Richardson, Sr., was a jazz enthusiast and sang with a quartet. In Toronto, Jackie joined her father at jazz clubs with her own aspirations of singing.
Richardson made her professional singing debut at age 16 when she joined the Toronto-based R&B group The Tiaras alongside her sister Betty. Richardson joined the group as a choreographer until her voice was strong enough to sing with the band. She went on to perform with an African group at Expo 67 in Montreal. She then briefly toured with a lineup of the American doo-wop group The Platters. She also became a regular performer at Canadian Forces Bases across Canada and around the world.
Throughout her career, Richardson has sung on a number of high-profile recordings, including: Joe Sealy’s Juno Award-winning album Africville Suite (1996); Anne Murray’s What a Wonderful World: 26 Inspirational Classics (1999); Norm Amadio’s Norm Amadio and Friends (2009); Peter Appleyard’s 2012 recording “Georgia”; David Clayton-Thomas’s “Freedom for the Stallion” (2015); and Micah Barnes’s “New York Story Duet” (2016). She has also collaborated with numerous acts on stage, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
In 2003, Richardson released her debut album, a mix of jazz, blues and gospel, entitled Woman’s View Through a Child’s Eye. In 2004, she was awarded a Maple Blues Award for lifetime achievement from the Toronto Blues Society; as well as the South African Women for Women Friendship Award for her accomplishments in the arts.
After she and her daughter, Kim, joined a community theatre group in 1975, Richardson fell in love with acting and decided to pursue a career in theatre. One of her early roles was that of Jenny Diver in The Threepenny Opera alongside Salome Bey. Since then, Richardson has performed in numerous productions across Canada, such as Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1985); Big Mama! The Willie Mae Thornton Story (1999, 2012, 2013); The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2003–04, 2015); and Cookin’ at the Cookery: The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter (2003).
For her lead performance in Big Mama! The Willie Mae Thornton Story, Richardson earned a Betty Mitchell Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role and a 2001 Jessie Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Small Theatre. In 2004, she won a Dora Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Principal Role – Musical for her performance in Cookin’ at the Cookery.
Richardson has also appeared in numerous film and television productions, including the TV movie Turning to Stone (1985), which earned her a Gemini Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and Sins of the Father (2002), which landed her a NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. From 2005 to 2007, Richardson played Jazzmin in the musical comedy children’s series The Doodlebops. She also won a Gemini Award in 2011 for her starring role in the TV movie The Gospel According to the Blues (2010).
Richardson has a passion for human rights and social justice. She has participated in various events for such charities as the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the Children’s Aid Foundation and The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, as well as for various organizations that support Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. In 2010, Richardson performed on the album World Jazz for Haiti (2010), in support of the Red Cross Haiti Earthquake Appeal fund. A committed supporter of education, she held a benefit in 2014 in support of the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund, which provides assistance to young musicians.
Richardson’ daughter, Kim Richardson, went on to become a successful singer and recording artist. She won Juno Awards for Most Promising Female Vocalist (1986) and Best R&B/Soul Recording (1987) before establishing herself in Montreal as a popular jazz singer and musical theatre performer. She received a Genie Award nomination in 2011 for Best Original Song for “Waiting for Your Touch” from the film Funkytown. She has also collaborated often with her mother.
- Blues with a Feeling Award, Lifetime Achievement, Maple Blues Awards (2004)
- Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Principal Role – Musical (Cookin' At The Cookery: The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter), Dora Awards (2004)
- South African Women for Women Friendship Award (2004)
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Actors’ Equity (2007)
- Canadian Black Achievement Award
- African Canadian Achievement Award
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series (The Gospel According to the Blues), Gemini Awards (2011)
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award, Black Theatre Workshop (2016)
- Honorary Member, Order of Canada (2021)