Johnny Downs

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Johnny Downs

Johnny Downs

Inductee

The Jack Richardson Music Awards are pleased to induct one of London’s musical legends, Johnny Downs, into our Hall of Fame this year. Johnny was born in London and received his early training at local schools, and organized his first band in 1939 at the age of 17. In those days, every beach community had a dance pavilion, and Johnny and his band spent that summer before the war playing in Kincardine, quickly establishing themselves as favourites throughout Southwestern and Midwestern Ontario. Summer residencies for the band included Leamington, Midland, Hamilton and, of course, London itself. There was a war going on during these formative years, and, when John graduated from UWO he joined the Canadian Navy, thankfully coming home safe and sound a year later at the end of hostilities. After reforming his band, and working throughout the area once again, the fifties found the Johnny Downs band tagged as the house orchestra at the legendary Stork Club in Port Stanley where they stayed for nine straight years. They continued to be a featured band at the beach front dance hall right up to the late 60s, and, in fact, John and his lovely wife Dorothy chose to spend their retirement years in Port Stanley as well, not far from where the club once stood. Johnny Downs was, however, far more than just the leader of one of the most popular bands in the area’s history. He was also a clever businessman, and applied what he learned at Western to two very different but still musically oriented businesses. Many people do not know that when Capitol Records first came to Canada they set up shop first in London before moving to Toronto in the 60s. John was the original sales manager for Capitol (now EMI) and also acted as somewhat of a talent scout for the label, helping many of the company’s earliest signings develop national profiles. He was a natural promoter as well as a salesman, and was noted for this with recognition by EMI on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary in Canada. John and Dorothy also owned and operated the Latin Quarter Restaurant and Nightclub on Maple Street. It was close enough to the Grand Theatre to be a favourite of the before and after theatre crowd, and was a popular hangout for musicians of all ages on an off night as well. Discounts were the rule of the house for musicians and music business people, and the staff included many of the same musicians who played in the latest edition of the Johnny Downs Orchestra. At one time, there was even a member of the symphony orchestra serving food and drinks wearing the brief but benign Bunny Girl costume that was the uniform of the house. Each generation of the orchestra featured young musicians trying to develop their chops and earn a few dollars, and John loved that because, above all else, he loved musicians. Many young players rented rooms from the Downs family for rates that were lower than one could expect to pay anywhere else. Musician, businessman and philanthropist are all adequate descriptions for any man. That they are all wrapped up in one in Johnny Downs is justification for his inclusion in the Jack Richardson Music Awards Hall of Fame.

Mario Circelli

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