Friday, July 31, 2009

 

THERE'S A HOEDOWN HERE TONIGHT

Amongst the first of my childhood memories are those of my father madly dial-twisting on the living room's console "Rogers Majestic" vacuum tube radio to tune-in Don Messer and his Islanders.

Dial twisting because my mother insisted on the family listening to the french language broadcast of the rosary (Le Chapelet en Famille), before the 7:15 PM CBC Radio broadcast of the Don Messer fiddle program. Dad would light-up one of his ever present "Lucky Strike" cigarettes (there were no filters then), and tune-in the "booster" as the locals called it, the local CBC English language repeater transmitter from CBA-Atlantic. Lest I digress - Though no one else seemed to get the irony, the family name of the local Roman-Catholic Bishop who broadcast the rosary was Bishop. Monsignor "Levesque" was "L'Evesque" of the local diocese. I was 3 years old and wrongly assumed that Bishops were simply called Msgr. Bishop.

Okay, another inch or two please to digress some more...Later-on most evenings my brother John who'd just become a teenager would dial twist more to pick-up distant American radio stations from Hartford, Connecticut (where we had relatives), Boston or New York to pick-up the latest hits: I recall the McGuire Sisters, Gogi Grant, Franki Laine and Pat Boone who sang white sanitized versions of the black rock-a-billy songs American radio stations refused to play for their white audiences. (At another time perhaps we can discuss the seminal role of a Canadian radio-station, CKLW in Windsor, Ontario in later altering North America's musical heritage.)

Down east in New Brunswick this long weekend; in Harvey, in McAdam and in Tweedside, where Don Messer was born, they are celebrating his 100th birthday. Since Thursday, the towns have been buzzing with centennial activities and tributes to musician Messer. There are kitchen parties, fiddle competitions, dances and concerts over a six day period...Locals have scoured their grand-parents basements and attics for memorabilia. A long-ago relative, Lottie Messer, aged 101, has been telling stories of dancing to the fiddle player when she was 17 years old.

Although he started his broadcasts in Saint John, Messer became a national celebrity after moving to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1944 where Don Messer and the Islanders, including fellow Maritimers Marg Osbourne and Charlie Chamberland, also from New Brunswick, took to the airwaves for 15 minutes every evening - Along with the "Happy Gang" broadcasts at mid afternoon, they defined English Canada for a generation or more.

In 1956 Messer moved to television. "Don Messer's Jubilee" aired for 13 years as a weekly program on CBC-Television. Messer died, some say of a broken heart, less than 4 years after his beloved television program had been abruptly cancelled in 1969 causing a national outcry against the CBC.

The parties in southwestern New Brunswick this weekend have been planned for several years. Messer: a humble, diminutive, quiet, shy, enormously talented musician would be proud...so would dad.

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