Montreal, January 8, 2022 - On the night of January 4, 2022, the soul of Violet States (née Grant), a devoted servant of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, took its flight to the Garden of the Immortal Kingdom of God. She is and will forever be the first woman of her race to become a Bahá'í in Montreal. She was 98 years old!

A courageous woman that nothing could stop her from achieving her life's goals, born in Verdun to Jamaican immigrant parents. Violet did not grow up in the upper echelons of classical music, but her father, a railroad worker, insisted that she take piano lessons in addition to her regular schooling.

Undeterred by racial prejudice, the young woman set her sights on becoming a music teacher herself and was even accepted at McDonald Teacher College, the former music faculty of McGill University.

When the principal of the school met her in person and realized that she was black, he dissuaded her from starting her studies, claiming that few parents would accept a person of colour teaching their children.

Far from discouraging her, this refusal motivated her to find another way to achieve her goal. With the help of a scholarship, she entered the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal to complete a major in piano.

It was in 1940 that Violet, a young pianist, attended the very first concert of the Montreal Women's Symphony on Mount Royal, an all-women orchestra assembled by conductor Ethel Stark. This event became her love at first sight and naturally she wanted to join.

She, therefore, became the first black woman ever to play in a professional orchestra in North America. This particular symphony orchestra did not have a piano in its ensemble but it never deterred Violet to find a way! She found out that the orchestra was missing a clarinet player!  Violet jumped to action and decided to learn this instrument which is entirely different from a piano! Three years later, she passed the auditions with flying colors and was accepted into the ensemble!

It was with this orchestra that in 1947, when segregation reigned everywhere in the United States, she became the first black woman to play at Carnegie Hall, the prestigious concert hall in New York.

At a time when women had just won the right to vote and segregation was at its worst, she had an outstanding career, paving the way for the next generation. Violet was also very involved in her borough, among other things, by volunteering to direct an amateur choirs. Her role in the community was already recognized in 2002, when she was awarded the title of Grande Verdunoise!

Violet joined the Bahá’í Faith on January 8, 1961 in Verdun and has served as a member of the Verdun Spiritual Assembly, serving for many years as the Secretary of that Institution. She was the first woman of her race in Montreal to accept the Faith.

Due to her dedication and generosity, the city of Verdun would have liked to name a street or an establishment in Verdun in her honour. However, she was chosen as the City Builder to represent Verdun which has later become a neighbourhood of Montreal!

She also participated in projects such as honoring the first black railroaders and the official recognition of a slave cemetery in St-Armand, Quebec. She also opened, in collaboration with the Caisse Populaire Desjardins, savings accounts for all students at Verdun Elementary School and through this project, she taught the children the importance of saving for the first time.

Finally, Violet Grant States proved the principal of McDonald Teacher College wrong, having taught music to thousands of young people, both privately for 28 years and in public schools for 22 years.

Bahá’u’lláh,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said, “once compared the coloured people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth.

May her radiant soul progress in the Eternal Worlds of God where no prejudice and rancor exist!


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