“She has a rare, instinctive musical intelligence that allows her to do quite naturally things that other artists spend years developing. Her sense of timing is fully equal of a Casals, and her feeling of the dramatic rivals that of Rudolf Serkin in his prime. She is gifted with a voice that has a tremendous range of colour and she uses it intelligently.” Montreal Gazette
Almeta Speaks exemplifies the maxim “one should live and experience life to the fullest.” She ardently believes that every life experience, talent, and skill influences each other, giving an individual a strong base for optimum growth.
Speaks, who is a pianist, composer, writer, singer, historian and lecturer on African heritage, has won two Emmy Awards, is a respected television and radio producer both in Canada and the United States, and is currently working on her PhD in Education.
She left her home in Reidsville, North Carolina, where she sang gospel from the age of 13, to sing in New York City. It was there that Speaks began to develop her unique musical style and to seek out role models of such major stature as Mabel Mercer, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Edith Piaf, and Bobby Short. She learned from them to always seek excellence in performance, that selection of a repertoire should include songs of beauty, hope and truth, and that these would transcend any room to the level of a concert stage. In the 1970s, she was offered a two-week engagement at Toronto’s George’s Spaghetti House. Eleven months later she had garnered a large Toronto following and fallen in love with Canada.
In the 1980s, Speaks enrolled in the University of California San Diego and received a BA degree in Communications Media and a second BA in Sociology, with a minor in music. While at UCSD, she attended an Ethnographic Media Study of village life in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa. She then combined the media study with her own interest in African music. This was the beginning of her desire to learn more about her own African roots and its music.
To address the notable lack of Black cultural programming on the local PBS station, Speaks was hired by KPBS TV to create, produce, and host Almeta Speaks With:. This community and cultural affairs series featured national and international figures, as well as audience panels on social issues. She won two Emmy Awards for it.
Speaks has performed in numerous North American cities, as well as across Africa, Australia, Europe, and Asia. She has maintained the contacts she made on her two major trips to first, West Africa and later to East Africa and Indian Ocean countries. In Africa, she encouraged her African cohorts to commingle their diverse cultures and was, in turn, encouraged by them to bring this fusion into her own blues, jazz, and spiritual music.
In 1997, she released two CDs on her own label: I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl and Let There be Peace on Earth.
Speaks’s keen awareness of Black-Canadian history led her to undertake a major research project that resulted in a four-hour television mini-series, Hymn to Freedom: The Contributions of Blacks to the Historical Development of Canada (1994). Her school presentations include excerpts from this series.
She has also embarked on many national and international visiting professorships in colleges and universities. These continue to engage her interest, most recently at Middlebury College, Vermont.