Viola Desmond

Viola Desmond honoured through song at tribute concert

Community gathers for series of events celebrating the Viola Desmond $10 bill

Viola Desmond’s spirit filled the room at a tribute concert on Gottingen Street, just a few blocks south of where the entrepreneur and activist opened her beauty school in the 1940s.

The concert, held at the Marquee Ballroom on Saturday, was part of a series of events celebrating the release of the Desmond $10 bill. Marika Parris, one of the night’s organizers, said the goal was to bring Desmond to life.

“Through the event we really try to get a deeper understanding of Viola, what she was like,” Parris said in an interview before the show.

Jaleel States, of Fine Lines Barbershop, was one of three barbers cutting hair at the concert.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

Born and raised in Halifax’s north end, Desmond is known for sitting in the whites-only section of New Glasgow’s Roseland Theatre in 1947.

She spent a night in jail and was charged with attempting to defraud the provincial government, because of a one-penny price difference between the whites-only and non-white sections of the theatre. She fought the charges and lost, but her actions brought Nova Scotia closer to ending racial segregation in 1954.

A model wearing clothes from Ashlee Miranda’s brand, Bad Publicity.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

Desmond was also an entrepreneur who ran a salon and beauty school on Gottingen Street. Students who had been turned away from whites-only beauty institutions flocked to her, and she sold her own line of beauty products across the province.

People gathered at the sides of the room to watch the barbershop and fashion show.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

The tribute concert celebrated Desmond’s entrepreneurial spirit by showcasing local barbers and fashion designers.

Another model shows off Bad Publicity’s designs on runway.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

Parris said she thinks if Desmond were to see the show, “she would almost be in disbelief. I can’t imagine her thinking her stand in the Rosewood Theatre was going to turn into this.”

Jayden Austin was the second musician to perform at the tribute concert.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

Music made up most of the night, with Shay Pitts, Jayden Austin, Zamani Folade, Jody Upshaw, Keonte Beals, MAJE, Roxy & The Underground Soul Sound and Cyndi Cain performing.

“I know the struggle that Viola Desmond represents for the black community in Nova Scotia and I’m so willing to support that,” said 16-year-old Pitts, the first hip-hop act of the evening.

People dance in front of the stage at the Marquee Ballroom.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

Desmond was at the forefront all night. “This one’s for Viola Desmond,” said Austin before a song with Pitts and Upshaw that the trio wrote about the activist.

MAJE onstage at the tribute concert.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

“You took the biggest stand by sitting down in the whites-only section,” rapped MAJE at the start of his set.

Kate Macdonald dances to Keonte Beals.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

The Viola Desmond planning committee, the group behind the Celebrate Viola events, is already looking beyond the bill’s release. Parris said they’re collecting stories about Desmond and working on a permanent commemoration piece for the north end area.

Roxy & The Underground Soul Sound.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

The night’s final performer was Cyndi Cain, who’s shared the stage with Aretha Franklin and Lauryn Hill.

One of Cyndi Cain’s songs, Legacy, was written with Desmond in mind.   Isabel Ruitenbeek

“I feel honoured; I’m excited,” Cain said before her set. “There’s a black woman on the $10 bill. It’s been a long time coming.”

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