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This article was published 30/3/2020 (536 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
June (Pepper) Harris is more than a musical icon in Winnipeg’s jazz, blues and R&B communities — she is Black history in Winnipeg.
The local Black History Month committee recently honoured June with a lifetime award of recognition for her artistic contributions to the community in general and the Black community in particular at its 2020 Community Awards banquet and gala.
Originally from Chicago, Ill., June arrived in Winnipeg as a young woman and burst on to the jazz scene. She captivated Winnipeggers as a pianist and with her smoky voice. She worked with the best of the best musicians in Winnipeg and played at venues from the Fort Garry Hotel to the Pembina Hotel and everywhere in between.
In early 2019, June performed at the Women in Jazz and Women in Blues concerts at the Park Theatre to full houses, and her peers celebrated her as the most senior artist in the house and as a role model for everyone else.
June is a multi-talented artist. In addition to being a musician, she is a writer, dancer, playwright and teacher. She touched many young people’s lives through her music teaching and coaching and gave back to the community as much as she received from it.
A practising Buddhist, June has generously given herself to the Black community. She volunteered to teach an immigrant women’s group to sing and she frequently sang at Congress of Black Women’s events and at Black History Month events over the years.
June wrote, produced and composed the musical score for the highly successful play Journey to Freedom, based on the life of Harriet Tubman. With a cast of local actors, the play opened at the Burton Cummings Theatre and later was showcased at the Manitoba Museum, engendering great community pride.
Currently recovering from a bout of ill health, June still has the ‘pepper’ in her personality. She is spunky, opinionated and always good for the funnies. She has a healthy sense of humour and a sense of history.
Pat Moore, a director of the Jamaican Association of Manitoba, nominated June for the Black History Month award because "she was the first person who came to my mind," he said.
Many attendees at the Black History Month Awards lined up to congratulate June on her recognition and love poured from the community to her as she wheeled up to the front of the stage to receive her award from Black History committee chair Mavis McLaren.
In her acceptance speech June urged people to "pursue your passion and it will come alive in your spirit." Thanks, June (Pepper) Harris.
Beatrice Watson is a community correspondent for Fort Rouge.