JUNE "PEPPER" HARRIS
It is with great sadness that we say our final goodbye to our beloved “June “Pepper” Harris,” Performing Artist, Mother, Grandmother, Daughter, Aunt, Sister, friend, at 86 years young.
June died peacefully on Friday August 14 at Grace Hospital, but not before she had the chance to live a full and glamourous life and for her, that meant living life to the fullest, doing what she loved more than anything in the world….Entertaining her audiences!
The ever-consummate performer, June met every single opportunity, performance, conversation, meeting, with enthusiasm and genuine wonderment. Her energy was contagious!
She impacted so many people throughout her lifetime through her music and travels throughout the world and she will be lovingly remembered by them all!
(Excerpt from June Harris’ book, “I Used to be Coloured, But Now I’m Black”)
“Way, way back in the day, when I used to be coloured, before I became Black, around 1957, I had just finished a return lengthy gig as an opening act for The Buddy Greco Show at one of Chicago’s hottest nightspots the “Club Le Bistro” in the Rush Street area, I was literally the first Black female piano bar artist to work the Near North side and had become the “sweetheart” of the late night lounge scene, namely because for a while, I was one of the “only” Coloured pianists working in the “Gold Coast” Rush Street entertainment district. I played and sang my own arrangements of jazzed up versions of showtunes, standards, and jazz in English, Spanish, and Italian and later learned to sing Yiddish and Hebrew songs.”
Singer, pianist, composer, recording artist and playwright June "Pepper" Harris is internationally renowned, Harris has delighted audiences with her unique contralto style in six languages.
The Chicago-born musician has performed as a solo artist and with trios in clubs, theatres, on radio, and TV in North America, Europe, and The Far East.
"Arts are important to society," Harris said. "They are a powerful educational and spiritual tool, whether it's music, dance, or visual arts. It is a way to take people off the streets, to give them a source of expression, the opportunity to work together toward a positive end. Having lived nearly 8 years now in Toronto, I'm amazed the "powers-that-be" don't realize the potential of music and the arts towards economic growth, for instance through tourism.” – June Pepper Harris
“My beautiful Aunt June was an iconic trailblazer who tenaciously lived her life on her own terms. She never stopped with her artistic passions which took her all over the world with some of the greats. In fact, she was one of those greats. So grateful I had time with her, especially during her last days with us. Her spirit will forever live on through everyone who was privileged to know her.” - Demarra West (June’s grand niece)
“This day reminds of a cozy, smokey jazz club in Chicago where you would find raw beautiful talent, down home kind of talent of the likes of my dear friend June Pepper Harris bringing it on home sending warm chills down your spine lost in the thrill of a song that moves you beyond this world, this dimension into another beautiful sphere where she is now, serenading the angels. June died peacefully this morning. I miss her already, but a woman with her "Pepper" cannot be contained. She must have unrestrained freedom. Seems appropriate that she would wing her flight on this jazzy kind of day. Enjoy the journey my friend. It does not end in this mortal world. Much respect.” - Beatrice Watson (Friend)
“A few days ago, we said goodbye to the legendary June Pepper Harris. She had a big influence on those around her and especially the musicians she surrounded herself with. I believe I first met June around 1977. I had started my career at Chateau Lake Louise three years prior to this and would make occasional trips to Winnipeg. June hired me for various gigs around town including gigs at the Norwood Hotel, The Royal Albert, The Assiniboine Hotel (Saturday afternoon jazz) and the infamous Wpg Jazz society socials. June was the epitome of a hard-working gigging musician who tirelessly succeeded in the industry. She not only created a scene for herself but also created worked for countless dozens of local musicians like myself. She had a tenacious spirit that enabled her to survive and thrive in one of the most challenging industries. She relentlessly refused to buckle under the pressures and strains that many if not most fall prey to. June refused to let the perils of the industry discourage her in any way. Over the years aside from our gigs together June would regularly keep in touch with me and keep me informed of her latest projects. I wish I could provide a more detailed description of her work over the years. She travelled internationally and was able to secure gigs many of us would never dream of have the courage to follow through with. June was a risk taker in the business and wasn’t afraid to hop on a plane with a promise of a gig at the destination. The stories she shared with me are too numerous to get into at this point. It’s the attitude, personality and spirit of her adventures that really rubbed off on me. Spending time with June made me realize that it is possible for a Winnipeg musician to have a taste of the international scene. Observing June and her adventures gave me courage to step out of the Winnipeg box and I credit her for encouraging me in the international career that I now have. Her attitude was always, why not, let’s do it. Many of us who were blessed to rub shoulders with this lady of jazz and blues owe part of our skillset to her encouragement on the bandstand. Staying power and believing in the dream were a couple of June’s mottos. To my bandmates that have spent time with June, I encourage you to reflect on those times. June, we love you and thank you for the joy and inspiration you planted in our lives.” - Walle Larrson (Musician & Friend)
My mother was an indomitable spirit and an unstoppable force of nature. When people would ask me about her character, and she was certainly that, I would always describe her as the consummate entertainer who never leaves the stage. June managed to do what she loved her entire life, and that was perform and entertain. I can remember as kids there was always music in the house, whether it was her playing piano and singing or a rehearsal going on, our home was always musical. No, she was not your “traditional Mom,” and even as kids we always knew we were different from every other family we had ever met. As I reflect on this, I would not change one thing about our life with Junebug! I love that she was unique, fun, and completely out there. Perhaps without knowing it, she was the biggest influence in my life, and I am happy, proud, and forever grateful to call her Mom.
May you soar with the rest of the musical angels for all time to come Mom. You are and will always be loved and missed by all those who have crossed paths with you!
I would also like to personally thank the staff at Beacon Hill Lodge for their care of my mother in the last months of her life. Every week I would get a call from Bernadette at Beacon Hill letting me know how my mother was doing for the week and she would always have such funny stories to tell me. I truly appreciate that, thank you!
We will be postponing June’s Celebration of Life ceremony until we can safely have a party in her honour.
As a tribute to June “Pepper” Harris, we will be hosting a jam session in dedication to her remarkable life. A woman who whose star will always shine the brightest of all stars!
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