Thursday July 21, 2016

Dal Richards: Vancouver's Swinging Bandleader

Listen to Full Episode 52:59
Dal Richards

Dal Richards and his orchestra, May 1960 (CBC Still Photo Collection/Franz Lindner)

For more than two decades, the sweet sounds of the Dal Richards Dance Orchestra filled CBC Radio. Dal first made his name performing at the Panorama Roof of the Hotel Vancouver where he and his big band entertained between from 1940 to 1965. 

"It's Saturday night, and here's your invitation to join us in the Panorama Roof of the Hotel Vancouver..high above the sparkling lights of Vancouver and overlooking its magnificent harbour. It's the music of Dal Richards and his Orchestra featuring the voice of Lorraine McAllister. So we invite you to dance to music supplied by the band at the top of the town!" -- Dal Richards introduction, CBC Radio broadcast, 1961


Juliette (CBC Still Photo Collection/Robert Ragsdale)

Dal Richards and Lorraine McAllister

Dal Richards and Lorraine McAllister with the Chris Gage Trio on CBUT’s “Meet Lorraine” circa. 1958. (Alvin Armstrong/CBC)

                                                                                                                  Dal Richards died on New Year's Eve 2015 at the age of 97. He left behind a legacy of wonderful big band music, marvelous interviews and memories of a time when going out for a night on the town meant getting gussied up to go dancing with your sweetheart to the swinging sounds of a big band orchestra. Dal had a profound respect for the music and for his fellow musicians. He wasn't just a professional - he was a true gentleman.

And he had plenty of stories to tell. In 1996, Dal Richards joined CBC Radio's Vicki Gabereau to talk about his early days. The first name to come up was Juliette, the young Canadian songbird Dal invited to join the band as its first vocalist. She was just 13 years old at the time. He married another of his vocalists, Lorraine McAllister, and they were together for 32 years until she died in 1984. In 2001 he married Muriel Honey. 

Other big names who came to see him play included Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. And then there was Princess Margaret, who asked him to play one song twice when she saw him perform. He told stories about Lawrence Welk and Liberace, both of whom he liked. And Rudy Vallee who he didn't. 

But by 1965, the big band scene was "cloudy," as Dal put it, and the bookers were starting to hire combos with just a handful of musicians rather than the full sound of the big band. The night club atmosphere slowly disappeared. Dal knew he had to change careers. After decades of performing in them, one thing he knew was hotels. He followed that lead and went into hotel management, studying at the BC Institute of Technology and earning his diploma with honours.

Dal Richards

The big bandleader first picked up an instrument when he was a young boy. He never stopped playing after that. (Dal Richards/Facebook)

In a 1982 interview with Vicki Gabereau on Variety Tonight, Dal talked about his teenage years - playing in the Kitsilano Boys Band and spending his Saturday afternoons sitting outside the Spanish Grill listening to Mart Kenney and his big band rehearse. He told Vicki how he got his nickname "Musical Host of the Coast" and recited the famous intro that started each of his CBC Radio Saturday night broadcasts.

In 2012, at the age of 94, Dal Richards received a rather peculiar honour. He told Carol Off about it on As It Happens. He'd been awarded the Guinness World Record for "longest lapsed time between performances by a high school band leader." This was after he led the Magee High School band of Vancouver in a special performance, seventy-five years after he left the band when he finished high school in 1937. Dal was still a bandleader, and true to form, he was looking forward to the next gig.

The delightful Dal Richards died on New Year's Eve 2015 at the age of 97. In a motion passed in mid January, Vancouver city council agreed unanimously to name a street in his honour. As Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson tweeted: "Rest in peace Dal, thanks for a century of great music and accentuating the positive!"

Songs featured:
Hour of Parting
Here's That Rainy Day with Juliette
Speak Low with Lorraine McAllister
Benny Goodman medley
Opus #1
Swingin' with Dal
Where or When

Listener Letters on Dal Richards:

I'm just writing to report that Big Band music is alive and well in the Waterloo Region! I am the drummer of an 18-piece big band. It's amazing, but young people love to dance to swing music! They dress up, grab a partner and join in enthusiastically. I was I pleased to hear the interview with Dal Richards. Clearly he knew about the appeal of this type of music and its ability to bring people together.  -- Andy/ Kitchener, Ont.

I am too young to have ever had a chance to learn how to swing dance, let alone go dancing to a live big band. But I love Swing music. I always have. And while I don't wish to have been born in a different my own has been a pretty fabulous ride, but oh how I would love to go back in time for just one evening. To get all dressed up to go see Dal Richards & his band, to go dancing with my sweetheart would be the coolest thing (as my kids would say) "of ever."

-- L. K/ Kimberley, BC

Just after Dal's death, I heard from an old boyfriend who reminded me of our great times dancing in the Panorama Roof to Dal's big band music. Dal was a friendly host even while conducting, looking around at the dancers and meeting their eyes, making sure they were enjoying themselves. There was something special dancing 'close' with a partner to those special rhythms of Dal's music and the friendliness (and no frenetic noise) of the Panorama Roof.
I really miss it.--
 Sue via the Rewind website

​Did I like today's program?  Couldn't even more.  Danced with myself in my house to some of the wonderful danceable music!!!  Thanks so much, for filling my fantasy life with a good dance partner to swing me around the dance floor to this great music...& such a loveable musical person, that Dal! -- Karen​/Kaslo B.C.

Today, as I sat with my 80 year old Mom in the Abbotsford Hospital as she has slowly and painfully endured test after test and far too long a wait for answers for the past three weeks, I watched her as she slowly drifted in and out of painkillers. I asked if she'd like to listen to CBC. As I watched her go in and out of sleep she suddenly started singing every word of a song I'd never heard...('My Rainy Day', I discover now). Just had to tell someone how touching it was to watch my music-loving Mom escape from this present bleak moment in her life to the happiest 'good times' of her past, the early fifties in Vancouver with Dal Richards and all the others who filled the night life with good, good music. -- Debbie, Abbotsford