Distinguished Canadian music teacher Daisy Elitha Peterson Sweeney passed on August 11, in Montreal, at age 97. She was the older sister of Oscar Peterson and was the early teacher of the celebrated jazz giant. Other students of hers included noted pianists Oliver Jones, Joe Sealy, and Ken Skinner.
Oscar Peterson once explained that his sister "gave me the one thing that has steadfastly sustained me throughout my career: dedication."
“She was the strongest musical influence I had,” Oliver Jones told The Montreal Gazette in 1987. “She was always a strict teacher, but if the kids had any problems, they could always talk to her. She’s one of the finest teachers we have."
Sweeney responded in The Gazette that "I hate to say I taught Oliver Jones because whatever you gave him to do, he came back with it accomplished — he was such a gifted person. It was the same thing with Oscar."
Sweeney earned a music diploma from McGill University and later studied with Paul de Marky and Phillips Motley. She funded her lessons by working as a domestic servant, as a riveter in an airplane factory during the Second World War, and by teaching piano to neighbourhood children.
Beyond teaching, Sweeney also co-founded the Montreal Black Community Youth Choir (now called the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir) with Trevor W. Payne in 1974.
In 1987, she received an honorary doctorate from Laurentian University. In 2005, Montréal's celebrations for the 180th anniversary of the founding of the Lachine Canal included a series of four gospel concerts dedicated in Sweeney's honour.
Her daughter, Canadian Olympic athlete and television journalist Sylvia Sweeney, paid tribute in a Facebook post on Friday. She wrote that "there are few people who genuinely impact thousands of lives and remain silent in the wings watching their seeds grow. My mother Daisy was such a person. She sat hour after hour beside her students teaching them music and life lessons that few have forgotten. She taught great artists such as Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones and she reared a family and a community to understand the word compassion. She will be sorely missed."
A Public Service is being held to celebrate Sweeney's life, at Union United Church, 3007 Delisle Street in Montreal at 11 am, Saturday, Aug. 19th. As seating is limited to 200 for this musical send off, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.