By ALAN SHACKLETON
Well-known hair and vocal stylist Mae Cromwell will be leaving the Beach this September after decades of working, living and performing in the community.
Cromwell, 64, said that while she’s moving from the Beach to make London, Ont., her permanent home, she is not calling it a retirement in any sense of the word.
For the last two years she has also been living partly in London while continuing to serve her clients in the Beach at Beauty Supply on Queen Street East. Her last day styling hair there was on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
“My partner got offered a job there, and life will be simpler for us,” said Cromwell of the permanent move to London.
“I am not retiring. I am retiring from working in the Beach, and that has been difficult. It’s been very emotional, and I’m telling everyone not to say goodbye…I want to thank the community for everything over the years. I won’t be saying goodbye. I’ll be saying see you around.”
Cromwell first moved to Toronto when she was 18 years old from Sudbury. She came to the city with her friend Eunice Robichaud, and attended York University where she was in the Communications program for two years.
After living in the west end of Toronto for awhile, Cromwell made the Beach area home when Robichaud started working at the Beachcomber Hair Salon which was then located on Queen Street East. It is now on Main Street just south of Gerrard Street East.
“I have lived all over the Beach for many years,” she said in an interview on her last day of business in the community. “I’d think that I was away on a vacation if I went past the Pizza Pizza at Woodbine Avenue.”
Cromwell has worked at a number of hair salons in the community over the years, mostly keeping tightly connected to the Queen Street East section of the Beach. For about the last 15 years she has rented a chair at the back of the Beauty Supply store near Hambly Avenue.
Cromwell first worked as a receptionist at Beachcomber before she decided she wanted to train to become a hair stylist.
“I enjoyed so much being at Beachcomber, and I thought I would like to do this and that I would take training, and Eunice was able to help me have that opportunity.”
She said it has been a pleasure for her to be able to live and work in the Beach community for so many years. “I loved being in the Queen Street area cutting hair and making friends with my clients.”
Cromwell said she recently met with one man who she remembers cutting his hair for his wedding 35 years ago. “I’ve been close to 40 years in the area,” said Cromwell.
She said it is the loyalty and support of her clients that has meant the most to her over the decades as they were there for her both as a hair stylist and a musician. “I’ve spent so many years on Queen and loved living my life here. Everything and everyone was on Queen.”
As well as being a much-loved local hair stylist, Cromwell also has an impressive music career which began in the Beach community, too. To music fans across the province she is well-known as the leader of the Mae Cromwell Band for many years and now with the band Grace.
Cromwell grew up in a musical family in Sudbury, where there was lots of records being played in the house — especially Rhythm and Blues. Favourites for her growing up were Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Her mother sang in Nova Scotia with a group called The Lucky Four.
Though she loved music and singing, Cromwell said she was very shy and that held her back from pursuing a musical career when she was younger as the idea of performing in front of crowds was a challenging prospect for her.
However, at age 30 she decided she needed to pursue her musical passions with a push from her friend Eunice.
“I always loved to do music, but Eunice knew I was shy and I felt I was too shy to perform in front of people,” said Cromwell. “But at age 30 I popped over to the Beach Music School and met fellow northerner Andrew Donaldson who became my vocal coach. He helped me find my voice. I always knew I could sing, but I was not sure I could sing in front of people.”
Cromwell started her performing career as a backup singer with musician Wolfgang Webb. “And then I started out on my own.”
And that musical career also began in the Beach where she became a frequent performer at the former Lido’s in the Beach club on Queen Street East. Lido’s was run for many years by Lido Chilelli, founder of the Beaches International Jazz Festival which has been taking place for 35 years.
“I sang at Lido’s a lot. It was an afternoon show and then I did a Sunday night and I couldn’t believe the number of people who were there, and I was so nervous my bottom lip was shaking,” remembered Cromwell.
She said she still gets nervous before performing. “I always feel nervous before I sing my first note.”
Cromwell also remembers one of those early performances at Lido’s where she looked out to see so many of her hair clients there to support her. “I just saw a sea of my clients faces.”
For years the Mae Cromwell Band performed across the province. Cromwell was also a regular at the Beaches International Jazz Festival for years. Some of the locations she performed at during the festival’s Streetfest event, which brings tens of thousands of music fans out for nightly performances along Queen Street East, included in front of what was the old Stoney’s bar and for many years in front of Beauty Supply.
“Lido was very, very supportive of me both at Lido’s and at the Jazz Festival,” said Cromwell.
Cromwell said she finds “joy” in performing, and loves how so many of her hair clients also became big fans and supporters of her music.
Her latest band Grace, with eight all-female members, plays a bit more harder rock than the R&B sound Cromwell might more readily be associated with.
“They are a group of women from different backgrounds who play all kinds of music…While I like R&B, I also really like singing (Led) Zeppelin and hard rock. We close our shows with Whole Lotta Love (a Zeppelin classic), and there’s a girl up there just shredding the guitar and I see guys in the audience playing air guitar. I love it.”
She again wanted to thank the community for its support over the decades.
“I can’t believe I got so much support from all my clients over the years. They have watched me grow and go through so many changes in my life, and they supported me all the way – with both tears and laughs. I just feel so completely loved and supported and I know I will always have a Beach family,” said Cromwell.