'It wasn’t about the music, it was about life:' Daisy Sweeney laid to rest
Daisy Sweeney, the beloved Montreal music teacher whose students included her brother Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, was laid to rest with a packed funeral service at Union United Church on Saturday.
Among those present was Jones, a famed jazz pianist who said Sweeney “brought the world” to him through music. During the service, he performed a rendition of Peterson’s 1962 composition ‘Hymn to Freedom,’ a song that the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame described as “an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.”
“She got to be a very, very close confidante,” he said. “She was like a big sister to me. But I think people will remember her as a teacher of great musicians and there were so many.”
According to Jones, Sweeney had over 2,400 students during her lifetime, but perhaps none was more famous than her brother Oscar, who she taught while she herself was completing a degree in music at McGill University.
Sweeney passed away on Aug. 11 at age 97.
Eulogies were given by Jones, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, Sweeney’s daughters Sylvia and Judith and others.
Judith recalled a woman who was always smiling and making jokes, even in her last years, but who had an inner toughness that was the result of being brought up by a perfectionist father.
“Her students, it wasn’t about the music, it was about life,” she said. “She wanted to teach them about giving back, she wanted them to have confidence in themselves. A lot of children at the Negro Community Centre couldn’t afford anything. If she saw a promising student she would give them scholarships to come up to the house for private lessons and my mother was not a rich woman.”
Sylvia spoke of a woman who welcomed anyone onto her piano bench, no matter their colour or language.
“The testament is our family,” she said. “It’s a family that was raised with a range of experiences and backgrounds, adopted to foster to birth mothers. We all ended up contributing in a way that made her proud.”
Throughout her life, Sweeney fostered numerous childen and adopted several more. Foster son Kenneth Hemmerick recalled a woman of boundless generosity.
"She accepted everybody. She was a lovely person, beautiful to look at but also beautiful in her soul and in her heart," he said.
Coderre has promised to rename a street in Sweeney’s honour, likely in the St-Henri district where she grew up.
“She was a guiding light,” said Coderre. “When I was listening last night to Oscar and Oliver’s music, the soul related to it – now we know that a big part of it was Daisy.”
The mayor praised Sweeney for being a pioneer during an era of Canadian history where the black community faced barriers to entering certain professions, including the music industry.
“She was born in a time when a coloured woman had to do more to get to her dreams,” he said. “That dedication, that inspiration and discipline (illustrates) what Montreal is all about.”