British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Children's entertainers Sharon and Bram owed thousands of dollars by B.C. promoter

For decades, Sharon and Bram have entertained Canadian children with songs such as Skinnamarink and Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? Now, in their mid-to-late 70s, they’re wondering what happened to thousands of dollars owed to them for the B.C. leg of their final national tour.

Bram Morrison says the British Columbia leg of their final tour was 'kind of a disaster'

Sharon Hampson, right, and Bram Morrison lost thousands of dollars in B.C. on what was billed as their final tour. (CBC)

For decades, Sharon and Bram have entertained Canadian children with songs such as Skinnamarink and Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?

Now, in their mid-to-late 70s, they're wondering what happened to thousands of dollars owed to them for the B.C. leg of their final national tour.

"I suspect we're out about $15,000," said Sharon Hampson, 75, from her Toronto home.

Sharon doesn't want to sit down and crunch the numbers. "It's too painful," she said. 

While they said they did receive an initial payment of several thousand dollars, the remainder was to cover flights, transportation, and the salaries of a three member band.

Instead, the aging entertainers had to dig into their own pockets to pay those expenses.

"This was just the one, unfortunate glitch. And it was a big one and it cost us. Cost us in all ways," said Sharon.

Bram, currently living in Victoria, echoes his co-star's concerns.

"It was kind of a disaster. The money to us is significant because it's how we make our living," said Bram Morrison, 78. "It's not going to kill us. We'll get past it … but in this final year of our touring, for this kind of thing to happen was not a nice thing."

'Audiences never failed us. The promoter (is) another story'

The performers gained international fame, forming 40 years ago as Sharon, Lois and Bram.

Lois Lilienstein died at age 78 in 2015.

Sharon Hampson said the failure to be fully paid for the B.C. appearances in October 'cost us in all ways.' (Derek Hooper/CBC)

Sharon and Bram embarked on their final tour of the country in September, playing seven successful gigs across Ontario before moving on to B.C. in October.

But instead of playing in big cities such as Vancouver and Victoria, the promoter contracted for the west coast leg put them in venues in Nanaimo, New Westminster, Abbotsford and Kelowna. 

Both Sharon and Bram said turnouts were enthusiastic and loving— but small.

"I was disappointed that we were not in the major centres. Not that there's anything wrong with the smaller centres. Some of our best times have been there," said Bram.

Sharon lays the blame squarely on Vancouver-based promoter Travis Pangburn, who operated the now-defunct Pangburn Philosophy promotion company.

"The audiences never failed us. The promoter, that's another story," said Sharon.

'It sucks': Travis Pangburn, B.C. promoter

Pangburn declined an interview with CBC News, but responded to some questions via email.

Asked why he didn't pay the agreed-upon price to Sharon and Bram, he wrote, "It sucks. I am and forever will be huge fans of Sharon and Bram. The fact that the shows didn't bring in enough to cover their full fee was not expected and it was highly unfortunate."

Besides the money owed to Sharon and Bram, Pangburn claims all of the venues "were paid most if not all what they are owed."

But checks by CBC News found the Abbotsford Arts Centre and the Kelowna Community Centre — the last two B.C. stops — are still awaiting final payment.

'We bit off more than we could chew'

Those associated with Sharon and Bram's B.C. tour aren't the only ones owed money.

Pangburn's once high-flying promotions company crashed and burned in November.

Former B.C. promoter Travis Pangburn folded his company Pangburn Philosophy on Nov. 13, one month after the west coast leg of the Sharon and Bram tour concluded. (Pangburn Philosophy/Twitter)

After organizing high-profile debates between leading intellectuals and philosophers in several world cities, he cancelled an event in New Zealand this summer and then another in New York in mid-November.

On Twitter on Nov. 13, Pangburn posted "effective immediately, the Pangburn Philosophy Corporation will be folding."

In an email to the CBC News, Pangburn admits, "In the end, we bit off more than we could chew."

Some who bought tickets to the debates have complained online they haven't received refunds for seats that cost as much as $500. Psychology Today magazine posted an article about the Pangburn collapse, calling non-reimbursed ticket buyers "Pangburned."

Sharon and Bram don't expect they'll ever see the $15,000 owed to them.

"Travis has hurt us and I know he has hurt other people," said Sharon. "I do not expect that we're going to get any money back from him."

'It's Sharon and Bram, for crying out loud'

The long-time executive producer of the Winnipeg Children's Festival said Sharon and Bram deserve better.

"It's a huge hit (for them)," said Neal Rempel. "No one's in this business and children's music or children's theatre to get rich. And these guys are senior citizens."

"It's Sharon and Bram for crying out loud," exclaims Rempel. "You don't want to hear about this happening to anybody. But when it's the nicest people in the business, that's just a capital 'W' new level of wrong."

Bram Morrison said 'the money is significant because it's how we make make our living.' (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Sharon hints there could be a return to B.C. under a new promoter, to say goodbye properly.

"Our farewell to B.C. fans was very limited. We would like to reach a wider audience," said Sharon. "I'm very hopeful that we will have the opportunity to come back to at least Vancouver and Victoria."

Rempel predicts they'll be met by sympathetic and enthusiastic audiences.

"I think you're going to see a big warm, loving response from B.C. families and parents that will leap to buy tickets and support these guys," said Rempel. "And help them make it right."

Sharon and Bram said nothing will sour their love for their audiences, and for what they do.

"You know, someone kicked us in the shins—but they didn't knock us over," said Bram.

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Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.

With files from Joan Marshall


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