Alf Tibbs

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Alf Tibbs

Alf Tibbs

Inductee

Long after the Alf Tibbs dance band played its last note, London remembers its sounds and its leader and pianist. As the leader of “his Lion’s Club Orchestra,” Tibbs was the chief music-maker at the opening of the old Hotel London on July 25, 1927. He was just 23 when he was the man for the grand occasion. One of the key elements in the recent Museum London display Dance Hall Daze showed that Tibbs was a pianist and band leader who could do more, much more, than play the right notes. He knew how to do the right thing. The late Hope (Wolf) Garber – mother of Broadway and film star Victor Garber – was the “blues singer” with Tibbs when she was a teen in the 1940s. A “Gentiles Only” sign greeted her father’s band when it showed up to perform at Grand Bend’s Lakeview Casino. Hope Wolf was Jewish. Tibbs swore his band would never play there again. That combination of moral and musical excellence is one of many reasons the Jack Richardson Music Awards steering committee is proud to announce the induction of Alf Tibbs to the London music hall of fame. He joins Johnny Downs, a dance bandleader in a later era, as our 2009 inductees. Tibbs’s Free Press obituary says the London pianist was close to Guy Lombardo as a teen. Born Jan. 4, 1904, Tibbs wanted to tour with the London bandleader just as Lombardo’s career was taking off. But Tibbs’s grandmother vetoed the idea. Tibbs stayed in London. He led bands in the first days of the old CFPL Radio and Port Stanley’s Stork Club. There is praise for the band in Frank and Nancy Prothero’s majestic How Sweet It Was: Fifty Years at the Stork Club: “Night after night, thousands of (Stork Club fans in the 1930s) found the band of Alf Tibbs the most satisfying dance band around.” During the Second World War, he became MC of a variety show with dancers, stage cowgirls, comedians and music. Like other London-based troupes, Tibbs’s all-stars played at training bases. It appears that the late Don Wright often conducted the ensembles while Tibbs emceed. After the war, Tibbs and his band continued to be active in London music into the early 1970s. He died on April 13, 1976. The Tibbs band’s legacy continues to be felt in London music. The violin played by the late Joe Maycock — Tibbs’s alter ego and better known as the smooth-voiced baritone Gayle Gordon — was recently acquired by one of the city’s top classical musicians. In honouring Tibbs at our 2009 gala, we are thinking also of his fine bands over the years. They include stylish singers, Wolf, Gordon and the late Virginia (Ginny) Mitchell, who died earlier this month.

Mario Circelli

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