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Celebrating Massey Hall: The Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street
June 14, 2014
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N.B.: This post originally ran two years ago, on Massey Hall's 118th anniversary. We're bringing it back to celebrate Massey Hall's 120th birthday, today.

For 118 years, those famous red doors have welcomed audiences to countless musical and cultural experiences. Everyone from Oscar Peterson and Neil Young to Winston Churchill and Justin Bieber have graced the Massey Hall stage.

Built by Hart A. Massey in memory of his son Charles, Massey Hall was donated to the city of Toronto as a gift. Hart hoped it would inspire 'an interest in music, education, temperance, industry, good citizenship, philanthropy and religion'. For its grand opening on June 14, 1894, a large choral performance of Handel's 'Messiah' kicked off a three-day festival. Massey Hall has been renovated four times over the years, and in 1981, it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.

For many years, Massey Hall was the only building in Canada that was designed expressly for concerts, as the home of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Taking note of its significance, many dignitaries and other famous figures have appeared at the venue, including the future King George V, Queen Mary and Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1901. And later that year, Winston Churchill took to the stage to talk about his Boer war experiences to capacity audiences. It has gone on to feature films, boxing matches, opera, ballet, and theatrical performances, but in recent years, it's become best known as an excellent rock venue.

Gordon Lightfoot had his first solo appearance at the Hall in 1967 and set a record for the largest number of solo performances there also. The Grammy and Juno Award-winning musician has become a staple of Massey's calendar, performing a run of dates at the venue. In 1978, he performed 10 shows in 9 days to sold-out audiences and on May 25 last year, he celebrated his 150th show on that same stage. His latest album 'All Live' compiles selections from his Massey Hall performances between 1998 and 2001 and are not technically altered with any overdubs or mixing. This is an example of the Canadian legend at Massey Hall, performing 'Shadows' in 2008:

To ring in his 60th birthday in 1995, Juno-award winning rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins staged a concert and documented it on his live album, 'Let It Rock'. A few good friends strutted the stage with him that night, including Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jeff Healey and Hawkins' old band: The Band. Instead of being billed individually, the musicians performing that night were dubbed "The Rock'N'Roll Orchestra."

Many other greats favour the acoustics, ranging from pianists Peterson and Glenn Gould to Canadian prog-metal heroes Rush. They documented their three-night 1976 stint on their 'All The World's A Stage' double album. And there's also Neil Young's brilliantly lonely 'Live at Massey Hall' album from his Journey Through the Past solo tour. Below is a segment of 'A Man Needs A Maid/Heart of Gold Suite' from that set:

Another historic Massey Hall performance is often referred to as the 'greatest jazz concert ever'. On May 15, 1953, the venue played host to a quintet consisting of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Our friend Colin James explains:

Legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy remembered his favourite time on the Massey Hall stage:

Recently on the show, Murdoch Mysteries' Yannick Bisson broke down the reaching influence that the Massey family had beyond the Hall, including politics, farming equipment and Oscar nominations:

And Colin James told the story of a night when Massey Hall had a group of the greatest jazz musicians in history on stage all at once:

For more recent performances from this past year, including Bon Iver, Feist, Sting and Brian Wilson, check out SoundBoard.


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