Pianist Jose Poneira entertained thousands during his long career. He died on June 22 at the age of 90.
Over the last 23 years he was a fixture at the Fort Garry Hotel, performing evening sets in the Palm Room and during Sunday brunch. In the 1950s and '60s his quartet performed regularly at Rancho Don Carlos on Pembina Highway in Winnipeg.
Irene Desaulniers, director of food and beverages at the Fort Garry, got to know Poneira over 17 of the years he played at the hotel. "He became a personal friend, as well," she says. "He was a talented musician. His mind worked like a computer, all of his music was
played from memory," Desaulniers explains.
"He enjoyed the finer things in life like fine wine,
and good cognacs and enjoyed talking about his performances of the past,
and had a great following in the lounge."
Jose Poneira Quartet played regularly at Rancho Don Carlos: Jimmy Weber, Jose Poneira, Jim Cordupel, Ed Sersen (Owen Clark Collection/Manitoba Music Museum)
Poneira also performed regularly on CBC Television, hosting a national weekly show called A Song for You
from 1962 to 1964.
In 1967 he hosted and starred in Pan Americana
, a half-hour, variety show devoted to music from Latin America. It included both indigenous music and North American music arranged in Latin styles.
Poneira's talent also offered him multiple opportunities to perform for both Hollywood royalty and actual royalty.
He once played a party for actor Robert Mitchum and his band made the cover of Life magazine thanks to a gig at the engagement party of Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier of Monaco.
More recently, when Robin Williams stayed at the Fort Garry for a month, the comic made a point of watching Poneira perform at the Palm Room.
Poneira was born in Germany and lived in Spain, Argentina and New York before settling in Winnipeg in 1955 with his wife Gladys. It was in Argentina that he developed his love for Latin styles.
When Desaulniers visited Poneira in hospital recently, she said to him, "When God takes you, it's because he needs a pianist to entertain in heaven."
Desaulniers says Poneira's response was, "I hope the piano is tuned."