Freddy McKenna was born in Fredericton in 1934; he was blind from birth. In spite of this, people remember him for his cheerful disposition.
He spent two years studying piano at the School for the Blind in Halifax. When he was 12 his parents bought him his first guitar. A neighbourhood girl taught him to play using the Hawaiian mode of playing. Freddy improvised a three finger style, holding the guitar across his lap as if he was playing traditional Hawaiian. The result was that he fingered the chords backwards. He later learned to play fiddle, mandolin and banjo in the same way.
By the time he was 16 he was playing for dances and local concerts. His first professional appearances were on the old Capital Co-op Saturday Night Jamborees heard over CFNB. Kidd Baker, one of NB's leading country music stars heard him and took him on the road. He spent several years with Kidd's band, mostly in Ontario .
Recognition for Freddy came in the late 50's; he made several appearances in 1958 and 1959 on Don Messer's Jubilee resulting in such a reaction from viewers that when CBC put on a summer replacement for the Messer Show, Singalong Jubilee, Fred McKenna was written in as a permanent part of the show.
When the show went before the camera he quickly established himself as one of the most important ingredients in the show's recipe for success. During the years the show ran, first as a summer replacement, and later as a regular prime-time fall to spring feature, his gargantuan size, dark glasses and battered guitar was a familiar sight to viewers across the nation.
During his Singalong years, Freddy McKenna recorded three albums for Arc Records and later one for Camden.
He finished life, not as an entertainer, but as musical director for the George Hamilton TV show produced in Montreal . On Friday, November 18, 1977 , Fred McKenna died quietly at his home in Toronto . He was only 43.
One of Anne Murray's lps bears the inscription, “Dedicated to the memory of Freddy McKenna, the man who first introduced me to country music”.
Arthur Maher...was born in Sussex , but moved to Saint John in his pre-school years. At 14 he began playing Hawaiian lap guitar. Four years later, in 1946, he joined four friends, Bob Milner, Eddy Bailey, Eddie MacDonald and Frank McDermot, to form the Sunshine Boys and broadcast over CHSJ Radio. They stayed together for a year and did a number of live concerts in communities around Saint John.
Art played with various bands around the port city and in 1949 joined the troupe of Hal Breau and his Lone Pine Mountaineers as their steel guitar player. He was with Breau when the Maine balladeer recorded his big hit, “ Prince Edward Island is Heaven to Me”, for Canadian RCA. Other recording sessions and hits followed the PEI song, but it was the biggest seller. Due to his influence on the band's sound, Art was featured in the Breau Song Folios and sheet music published by the Canadian Music Company in 1950.
During these years with Breau they appeared in and around Nashville and Wheeling with such US stars as Hawkshaw Hawkins and Big Slim The Lone Cowboy and backed such acts as Don Red Barry and Sunset Carson on stage in St. John. In 1952, Art formed his own local Saint John band to back Hal Lone Pine and his wife Betty Cody and fiddler Ned Landry on a series of CBC coast-to-coast broadcasts. During that same year, he did a stint as a disc jockey on a country music evening show over CFBC in an effort to keep real country music on the air.
For the next several years he continued to record and travel with Breau and appeared with him on several ABC Network shows in the US .
In 1955 he was a regular on the GWG Country Show over CHSJ-TV and in 1956 on the Curly O'Brien Show. Years of traveling with his own band followed.
In 1969 he launched one of NB's best known country shows, The Art Marr Country Music Jamboree which unfolded on the stage of the Lily Lake Pavilion each Sunday night for nearly three years. Some of the international greats who appeared on his show were: Lenny Breau, Lefty Frizzell, Tommy Cash, Tommy Overstreet, George Morgan and Hank Snow.
Art still leads an active life today although he ceased to operate the band several years ago. Many weekends he travels to Halifax or Bangor to jam with friends Pearson Friars and Dick Curless.
A multi-talented instrumentalist, Gary Morris heads Crossroads, a leading NB dance band. He also owns and operates Prime Time Productions in Sussex.
Gary grew up immersed in old-time music. His father, Eugene, a well-known musician started Gary on fiddle lessons when he was 5 years old.
Gary was born in Saint John in 1949 and his family moved to Sussex shortly after. He grew up in the dairy town and at the age of 7 played Hawaiian lap guitar with his father and brother Bill at the Queens County Fair.
He formed his first band when he was attending Sussex High School and played for square dances and entertained visiting VIP's at the school. He was just 14 when his father originated a series of Town and Country Jamborees in Sussex and the family band performed on the shows. These shows continued until his father was transferred to Fredericton . Gary was in his second year of university at this time.
After college, Gary returned to Sussex to live and formed Crossroads Band. In 1975 the band recorded the first of two albums on the Pokoik label. The first, titled “ Fifth Avenue ” contained 11 selections including 8 original by Gary . The second lp, titled “Southern Queen”, was released in 1977.
In the late seventies, Gary,, now married, started writing and recording jingles on rudimentary equipment in his basement. This was quickly transplanted by an 8-track recording machine he acquired locally. With several lps, singles and many demo-tapes under his belt, Gary decided to try for the “big-time”. A state of art studio was quickly erected by his home. It is as modern as most studios in Nashville and has been almost continuously in use since the opening in 1982.
Gary 's Crossroads Band has been active weekly as well as has become very popular. They had the honour of backing Marg Osborne on most of her local appearances while she was living in Sussex . They have also appeared as the warmup act for such US superstars as Ray Price, Freddy Fender, Chubby Checker and England 's globe-trotting Herman's Hermits. One of the bands proudest moments occurred in 1982 when they were the opening act for the 1982 Canadian Country Music Week in Dartmouth , NS . Gary and his band have also made many radio and TV appearances over their years together.
It is safe to say that Charlie was the most beloved of all the Canadian entertainers ever to appear before a microphone, be heard over radio or seen on TV. Born in Bathurst , N.B., on July 14, 1911 , Charlie was a star on all three before his death at Chaleur Regional Hospital in July, 1972. In a way, the road of his life had brought him full circle.
Charlie was quite young when he started to work in the lumber camps. After the long day of axe swinging, Charlie still found energy to play guitar and sing. This trait won him the title, “Singing Lumberjack”.
In 1935, Charlie was on a train travelling from Bathurst to Saint John when a businessman heard him singing and arranged a meeting with Don Messer. Don was so impressed that he put Charlie on the air the next day. The first song he sang was “Wayland's Fate”, the story of a woodsworker who died in a log jam. The station switchboard lit up right away and Charlie became a regular on Don Messer's show.
He and several others on the show won the Major Bowes Talent Search in New York in 1937. As a result, Jimmy Durante, impressed by the size of Charlie's nose, which rivalled his own, offered him work in Hollywood . He declined, however, and in 1939 moved with Don Messer to form “The Islanders” broadcasting coast-to-coast over the CBC Network.
It quickly became one of the most popular shows on the airwaves and when in 1947 Marg Osborne joined the group, her voice and Charlie'' seemed to be made for each other. Neither were glamorous in the Hollywood sense of the word, and people identified strongly with them.
The Islanders moved to Halifax in the mid-fifties and started Don Messer's Jubliee over CBC-TV. They were the number one show that year and for the next decade stayed near the top. It was a great shock to the show's millions of fans when the Jubilee was abruptly cancelled in the fall of 1969. Although a great outcry was raised and a network of private stations picked up the show, it was never quite the same again.
The stress of that year took its toll. Charlie collapsed during a show rehearsal in Hamilton in June, 1972. When released from hospital he returned to Bathurst where he died a few days later. Besides his wife Lydia , Charlie is survived by three daughters and three sons.
Over the past three and a half decades the name Marlene Weathervie Goodine has become synonymous with step dancing in this province. Through her popularity as a dance guest on the Don Messer shows in the fifties, she was the inspiration that kept the art alive and flourishing.
A daughter of William and Priscilla Weatherbie, Marlene was born on September 16, 1940 in Charlottetown, PEI. The family’s nine children supplies the Island with three notable dancers and a fiddler. Marlene and her brother George won the Island’s step dancing and fiddling championship for three consecutive years, 1955-1957. She was just 15 when crown the first time, a tribute to her early ingenuity as an interpreter of a traditional dance style.
She was already a veteran of the stage when at age 13 she attracted the eye of Don Messer, then preparing a troupe for a summer tour of the Maritimes. Marlene went with him that summer and in 1955 when the show moved its base from Charlottetown to Halifax to become TV’s Don Messer’s Jubilee, she was called over for several guest appearances.
That year after winning her first PEI dancing championship, she went on a cross-Canada tour with Messer and brought audiences to their feet with applause wherever she performed.
It was during a Messer tour in 1963 that she met her husband-to-be in Woodstock, NB. A year later she and Leroy Goodine were married and she moved with him to Fredericton. They have two sons, Troy and Sandy.
In Fredericton, Marlene wasn’t long in opening her now famous dance studio. In the 20 years since, she has trained literally hundreds of students in the art of dance. It would be safe to say that Marlene has taught a greater part of the dancers in this province at one or another stage of their careers. Many have gone on to become teachers themselves.
Marlene continued as a frequent performer on The Don Messer Show until the show ended. Since then Marlene has been active on variety shows and jamborees in the capital city area and has appeared on various TV shows including Up Home Tonight. Meanwhile she continues to instruct and perform the old-time country style of step dancing. .