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Toronto Recording Artists On Radio
Part Two
The seventh concert included Gordon Mitchell’s Society Syncopaters, shown above, photographed at the Heintzman & Co. store in Toronto. There were two saxophonists listed in the band, Oscar Burnside and Nat Cassells.

For years the Star had presented a weekly series of free public concerts around Toronto, the programs managed by The Star critic and featuring the wealth of musical talent in Toronto: music teachers, advanced students, church soloists and instrumental ensembles. The venture into radio was an exciting experimental leap for the newspaper, to use the new and still imperfect wireless telephone to transmit these Star demonstration concerts to a wider public. Delivering concerts broad-cast through the ether was still a new, daring concept that was just catching on in the United States, for this was just at the beginning of the radio boom.

The 7th concert, April 20, 1922, was a variety program combining classics, jazz and elocution. Gordon Mitchell (of Detroit) and his Syncopators contributed the jazz (Gordon Mitchell, piano; Gordon Jones, violin; Harold Foss, sax; Oscar Burnside, sax, Bud Brown, tenor banjo and Jack Richardson, drums). On April 25, the 8th concert featured Gordon Mitchell’s Society Syncopators, the personnel altered to include Nat Cassells, saxophone, and Gordon Newnham, xylophone. Cassells also stepped up to the horn to play "When the Buddha Smiles" with Gordon Jones, violin, and Gordon Mitchell, piano. Cassells was a member of the Romanelli Orchestra in 1922 and later joined Captain Plunkett’s Overseas Orchestra (see CAPS 001).

An Hawaiian trio, consisting of Paul T. Mulliette and Tom and Sydney Pritchard, participated in the 9th concert, on April 28. Sydney Pritchard later exchanged his ukelele for a banjo, playing and recording with Fred Culley and His Royal York Hotel Orchestra (CAPS 001). The same group, as the Compass Guitar Trio, appeared on the 12th concert, May 9.

Manny Roth, boy violinist, played on the 10th and 11th concerts, May 2 and 5, the latter broadcast billed as "Boys’ Night on The Star Radio". A von Kunits pupil, Manuel Roth was selected by Leopold Stokowski for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1924 and performed and recorded with them for over 45 years.

Bert Henderson and His Orchestra contributed several dance numbers to the 12th concert on May 9 (Bert Henderson - piano; H.C. Bramhall - sax; Leonard Robinson - violin; Charles Lownes - trombone; Bud Brown - tenor banjo and John Frizzell - traps. This John Frizzell may really be Gene Fritzley, who played drums in concert #6 with Frank Wightman’s Famous Orchestra). Broadus Farmer, a Hambourg and Czaplinski pupil, played as well and recordings of his artistry may be preserved in the CBC Archives.

Chief Deskaheh of the Six Nations Reserve at Brantford in front of the CITCo/Toronto Star microphone. The Star commented that "It was the first time in history that the tongue of the original Canadians had been broadcasted by radio".

The top billing of the 14th concert, May 17, was a genuine war-whoop by Chief Deskaheh of the Six Nations Reserve, Brantford, Ontario, followed by a speech in Cayuga and then in English. Also on the program were Leslie Allen, saxophone, playing "Saxena" and "Everybody Calls Me Honey", and Alfred Noakes, cornet, giving "Wild Rose Polka" and "Smilin".

The mellow, yet penetrating notes skipped up and down the scale and they skipped into the horn and were forthwith lost to the ears of those in the broadcasting room - but gained by one hundred times as many ears in the "big circle" outside. Mr. Allen’s piano accompanist was Earle Estelle, who followed unerringly the saxophone’s wandering trail.

After Chief Deskaheh had stated the claims of his people, Leslie Allen’s "Radio Seven", probably a single-purpose pick-up band, took over and was

the spice of the musical program. These seven young players, Will Evans, drums, Alfred Noakes, cornet, Earle Estelle, piano, Jack Kean, violin, Fred Boddington, saxophone, Leslie Allen, saxophone and E. Robson, banjo, played "Venetian Love Boat", with piano solo "Kitten on the Keys"- in their own arrangement - in very lively fashion. "Ohio Shore" was more dreamy. It glided like the river.

Miss Vera McLean returned for the Empire Day program, #15 on May 23, to sing "Break O’Day" and "Annie Laurie", and Leslie Allen came back, this time playing in Jack Kean’s Orchestra (Jack Kean, violin; Earle Estelle, piano; Leslie Allen and Fred Boddington, saxophones; Ernest Robson, banjo and Will Evans, drums). They wailed through "Stealing", "She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not", "Dear Love, My Love" and "Deep in Your Eyes". Joseph Quintile, first harp teacher at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, contributed three numbers.

It wasn’t until the 19th and last concert in the 9AH/CKCE series for The Star, on June 14, that another recording artist appeared. Ben Hokea brought his Hawaiian Novelty Orchestra to the CITCo studio (Ben Hokea, steel guitar; Mrs. Hokea, piano; Percy Barber, saxophone; Travor Jones, violin; John D. Kakalia, Spanish guitar and Lorne Hanlon, banjo).

Hokea’s Hawaiian Novelty Orchestra started with a soothing South Seas medley, "One, Two, Three, Four", concluding in a burst of rhythmic jazz. ...... This orchestra is indeed a novelty one. The instrumental selections were interspersed with vocal choruses and chants, which added to the effectiveness of the numbers ...... two selections, "Aloha-oe", "Swing Me in the Moonlight" and a medley concluding with "The Beach at Waikiki", and they certainly gave a delightful presentation of the Waikiki beach with the swaying Hawaiian melodies.

The rest of the program was provided by Salvation Army musicians.

In addition to the twice-weekly 8:30 pm radio demonstration concerts, The Star began a daily series of 30-minute programs at 7 pm on April 10. The format soon crystallized, beginning with The Star’s late financial bulletin, followed by news of sport, a guest artist or speaker, a children’s bedtime story told by Miss Ruth Strong of the Toronto Public Library, a political bulletin telegraphed from The Star’s parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa, and concluding with a second musical number.

Two of the famous Dumbells, from the Dumbells Revue of 1922: "Red" Newman (1887-1952) in a Pearly Kings costume and female impersonator Ross Hamilton (1889-1965) as "Marjorie".

Most of the guest artists who broadcast in this 7 pm series are now forgotten, but on May 20 the young violin pupil of Ferdinand Fillion and von Kunits, Geoffrey Waddington, appeared to play two classical pieces. Waddington conducted CKNC’s Canadian Eveready Concert Orchestra for Victor Records in1928, was later music director for the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission and the CBC, and recorded conducting various CBC orchestras. Sports editor William A. Hewitt was also scheduled that night, talking about the results of the King’s Plate, run at Woodbine earlier in the day.

The Dumbells, the Canadian Third Division Concert Party, who were currently at Ambrose Small’s Grand Opera House in their "Dumbell Review of 1922", showed up twice on the 7 pm Daily Program. On May 22, Al Plunkett ("K-K-Kiss Me Again"), "Red" Newman ("I’m a Daddy") and Ross Hamilton ("Say You Will Not Forget") performed in front of the horn and, on May 29, Jimmie Goode ("I Makes Mine Myself"), Freddie Fenwick ("Joshua) and Arthur "Jock" Holland ("Something Doing Across the Way") dropped in. The Dumbells and Captain Plunkett’s Overseas Orchestra were Berliner HMV recording artists.

Frank Oldfield, popular Canadian baritone and a Berliner HMV and Pathe recording artist, sang solos and duets on the June 26th edition of the 7pm Daily Program. Dr. Herbert Austin Fricker, director of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, addressed the little fibre horn on April 29 on "Toronto as a Musical Centre". Dr. Fricker conducted the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for Brunswick and the C.N.E. Chorus for Canadian HMV.

June 22, 1922, was the Grand Opening of CFCA, The Toronto Star broadcasting station, located in The Star Building, 18-20 King Street West. CFCA would hereafter take the place of CKCE as the source of The Star programs. The new station had been designed and built by Dr. Charles A. Culver and hisstaff from CITCo. CITCo also rigged up the famous little white Star truck, with "Radio Station No.1" painted on the side, that Foster Hewitt and "Ted" Rogers used to take out to parks and fairs to show off CFCA to the public. A few days later, on June 26, Dr. Culver produced and directed for Filmcraft Industries, Toronto, a feature silent movie on the new station. The picture was shot in the CFCA studios during a broadcast and was shown at the end of August at the Allen Theatres in Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, Kingston, London, Stratford and Montreal, as well as at the CNE. There had to be multiple prints, so where is that film now?

The Toronto Star radio concerts continued on CFCA with live musicians and an impressive innovation, The Star Orchestra directed by Reginald Stewart. But that is a subject for future research.

Bibliography and credits

  • J.E. Atkinson ofthe Star - Ross Harkness, U of T Press, 1963
  • Toronto Daily Star, 1920-1922
  • Roll Back the Years - Edward Moogk, Ottawa, 1975
  • Dance Bands from Canada, 1922-1930 (CAPS 001), notes by Colin J. Bray, 2000
  • Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (eds. Kallmann, Potvin & Winters, U of T Press, 1981)

Thanks to Bill Pratt and David Lennick

Arthur E. Zimmerman is author of "In the Shadow of the Shield" (657 pp), a fully documented oral history of wireless and radio broadcasting at Queen’s University and in Kingston, Ontario, 1902-1957. He is currently researching the earliest years of the Montreal and Toronto Marconi radio stations, XWA/CFCF and CHCB, respectively, and is looking for biographical information on the Canadian singers Gus Hill, and Dorothy Lutton, as well as for copies of the magazine Canadian Wireless (June 1921-July 1922). He can be reached by telephone at (416) 923-2001 or by e-mail at arthurz@look.ca