Lower portion of the 70-meter-tall music history mural by Adrian Hayles on the north side of the apartment building at 423 Yonge Street, 2019. Photograph courtesy of Downtown Yonge BIA.
Lower portion of the 70-meter-tall music history mural by Adrian Hayles on the south side of the apartment building at 423 Yonge Street, 2019. Photograph by Hanifa Mamujee.
Celebrating music history through public art
Two 22-storey murals on the north and south sides o 423 Yonge Street
Commissioned by the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, and completed by local artist Adrian Hayles, the Music History Murals celebrate landmark venues and musicians who defined Yonge Street’s music scene during the twentieth century.
The north-facing mural celebrates music venues such as Le Coq d’Or next to its most famous performer, Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins. Below, a focused Glenn Gould plays his iconic Steinway piano. Singers Dianne Brooks and Jackie Shane are in the centre of the mural, directly next to the iconic signage of Sam the Record Man. Below is iconic American blues singer, Muddy Waters, who played Yonge Street’s Colonial Tavern in the 1970s with his latest hit, “Blow Wind Blow.”
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The north-facing mural also features American blues legend B.B. King, folk music icon Gordon Lightfoot, and renowned jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Shirley Matthews’ portrait can be found in the centre of the mural. Matthews worked as a switchboard operator for Bell Canada before moving to Toronto to pursue her singing talents. She sang at Yonge Street’s Club Bluenote in the early 1960s, which helped to land her a recording session in New York City. She released her hit “Big Town Boy” in 1964, followed shortly by “He Makes Me Feel So Pretty.”
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Venues and record shops instrumental to Yonge Street’s history
The south-facing mural features six Yonge Street locations and 13 performers.
At the very top of this mural are the Band, who got their start performing with Ronnie Hawkins at Le Coq d’Or, as well as the famous frontage of the Masonic Temple venue at 888 Yonge Street. Below are David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears, blues singer Lonnie Johnson, and Jay Douglas of the Cougars. Next can be seen the rock band Goddo as well as singer-songwriter Salome Bey. Born in the United States, Bey moved to Toronto in the early 1960s to perform at many of the jazz venues in the city. She became known as “Canada’s First Lady of Blues.”
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The middle of the south-facing mural features the iconic neon sign for A&A Records as well as Rush, a band who got their start in North York. Alongside the sign for the Piccadilly Tube Restaurant and Tavern can be seen Dizzy Gillespie, one of the greatest jazz musicians of the twentieth century, who often performed at the Town Tavern and the Colonial during the 1960s. To Gillespie’s right is Kim Mitchell; below are singer Cathy Young and Rough Trade’s lead singer Carole Pope. Signs for both the Brown Derby Tavern and Steele’s Tavern can also be seen. Finally, the band Mandala rounds out the mural at the bottom centre and Jon and Lee from the Checkmates finish everything off on the far right.
Which of these names and places do you recognize? Do you remember seeing these artists perform on Yonge Street?