Charlie Biddle is a musical institution. Across the continent, his reputation precedes him among jazz musicians. In Quebec, his name has been synonymous with jazz, Charlie's life story cuts through linguistic, cultural and racial barriers.
When the Biddle Family opened the 1995 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, they were introduced as "the royal family of Montreal music". That Montreal stages the most successful jazz festival in the world is due in part to the efforts of Charlie Biddle. When he organized the first Montreal jazz festival, "Jazz de Chez Nous" in 1979, he was told that it would never work, jazz was then totally foreign to Quebec's culture.
The Biddle family has its roots in the slave plantations of North Carolina, they moved to the industrialized North after the Civil War. Charlie was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he lived there until the United States Army recruited him. After serving his term in the army, Charlie took advantage of the G.I. Bill to study music at Temple University. He moved north to Quebec in 1948, he was then 22.
Upon his arrival in the province, he proceeded to revolutionize the Quebec jazz music scene. He formed his own jazz band and traveled throughout the province, introducing jazz to towns that had never before experienced it. In 1967 Charlie was selling cars by day, and playing nights at Montreal's 'Black Bottom'. His wife convinced Expo '67 to give Charlie the use of the Youth Pavilion to produce jazz concerts during the event. Charlie was to use this opportunity to introduce artists such as John Coltrane, Thad Jones and Pepper Adams.
In 1979, Charlie single-handedly produced his first jazz festival against the advice of almost every Montreal promoter. However, CBC Radio did broadcast the festival and it was a success. Coincidentally the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal was born the following year!
Throughout his career Charlie has played with a who's who of jazz legends and list continues to grow. His four children, Sonya, Charles Jr., Stephanie and Tracy are all very active in Quebec's entertainment industry. The Biddle family is a testimony to the racial, linguistic and cultural harmony that is possible here in Montreal.
Mr. Biddle passed away in February, 2003.
Biddle received the Oscar Peterson Prize in 2000, was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2003, and was honored with the Prix Calixa-Lavallee in 2003. The Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society stated that: "Without him, Quebecers might not have developed their love for jazz that has made Montreal a host of one of the greatest jazz festivals in the world."