Artist Ruth Abernethy enjoys a laugh with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, while Queen Elizabeth admires the statue of Oscar Peterson that she unveiled outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, June 30, 2010. (Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen)
OTTAWA — Queen Elizabeth unveiled a bronze sculpture commemorating Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson on Wednesday as she made her way through Ottawa on the first day of a four-day visit.
A loud gasp rippled through the crowd when the Queen pulled a theatrical golden rope that raised a red velvet curtain and revealed the sculpture.
James Moore, the minister of Canadian Heritage, said the sculpture at the corner of Albert and Elgin streets pays tribute to a man he called a “Canadian cultural treasure.”
The minister also applauded sculptor Ruth Abernethy, who spent nearly two years working on the project.
“She’s done a superb job capturing this larger-than-life Canadian and his larger-than-life piano,” he said.
Peterson’s widow, Kelly, and daughter Celine had a front-row seat at the ceremony, which also included a performance by the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir under the direction of Trevor Payne.
Oliver Jones, a longtime friend of Peterson’s, performed the jazz icon’s signature piece, Hymn to Freedom.
Abernethy, who also attended the unveiling, spent nearly two years working on the bronze sculpture, which features Peterson seated at a replica of his favourite piano, a Bösendorfer Imperial.
Peterson, who died in 2007, went from a working-class Montreal neighbourhood to become one of the world’s greatest piano virtuosos. He made more than 200 jazz recordings during his career and won seven Grammy awards.
He was famously called “the maharajah of the keyboard” by Duke Ellington.
Peterson performed for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto during the Golden Jubilee Gala Concert in 2002.
The unveiling of the 600-kilogram sculpture drew quite a crowd of dignitaries. Guests included cabinet ministers John Baird and James Moore, Liberal MP Bob Rae, former Ontario premier Bill Davis and several noteworthy broadcasters.
The NAC’S Oscar Peterson National Committee raised more than $300,000 for the sculpture project.
After the unveiling, the Queen greeted people at the front of the crowd.
Ty Weber, 10, was one of the first she spoke to. He said he couldn’t remember what she said after he handed her a bouquet of pink gerberas but that he was excited to see her after waiting two hours.
Eighteen-year-old Terry Young was beyond excited. He said he came straight to the NAC after arriving by Greyhound from Peterborough at 6 a.m.
When he handed her a bouquet of red and white carnations, she put out her hand.
“The lady that’s on the money shook my hand,” he said. “I could go home right now just knowing I met the Queen.”
Bethany Bisaillion, pipe major for the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, brought eight of her bagpipe and drum students, who are aged four to 10.
They all gave the Queen flowers and Bisaillion gave her a framed sheet music of a jig she wrote called “Royal Rant.”
Bisaillion said the Queen seemed surprised when she told her she wrote her a song and then asked after her band when Bisaillion reminded her they once played for her at Balmoral.
One of her students, Kyle Page, 10, said he had never waited anywhere so long but it was worth it.
“The Queen is one of the most important people in the world,” he said.
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