Wilf Lancaster Orchestra 1967November 29, 2009
Wilf Lancaster Orchestra 1967
Thank You to Wilf’s daughter Cheryl, who replied to the archive with this great information.
My dad began playing the drums in bands in and around Chatham about the mid to late ’30s. He played at Erie Beach, and in Chatham the band played at a couple of outdoor dance pavilions during the summer and the Pyranon Ballroom as well.
This was war time and dances were held most evenings. As I mentioned to you in an earlier e-mail, big bands were playing in Detroit and the Chatham Musicians’ Union agent would travel to Detroit, meet with the band’s booking agent, and if and when a convenient day was determined, that band would travel to Chatham to play a one-night gig. The Musicians’ Union rules at the time dictated that if an out-of-country band was playing, an equal number of Canadian musicians had to be on hand at the dance hall and paid according to union wages. As dad’s band was the house band at the Pyranon Ballroom, he and his musicians were paid to be in attendance and to play during the big name band’s intermission.
In 1966, dad began putting his dream of a band reunion together with several of the old members. The First Annual Reunion of the Big Band Sound of Wilf Lancaster was held in October, 1966. The curtain rose to the playing of ‘With A Song In My Heart’ (his theme song chosen in 1938). The hall was absolutely packed. I was indeed privileged to be a part of that night, as my dad had included a part for organ in the arrangements. The band went on to play monthly gigs at the Pyranon and were hired to play at various clubs’ annual dances.
Due to poor health, he was forced to give up playing. On Friday, November 13th, 1970, the curtain came down on the band. As we were playing the theme song for the very last time, I looked over at my dad and saw one big tear trickling down each cheek. It was all I could do to keep playing. On that night, the baton was handed over to Fred Foster (now deceased) and Bill Pritchard.
Dad passed away in June 1973, but I know he would be so very happy to know that his band continued to play well into the 90s, under the name of ‘The Lancaster Band’.
(The full band picture was taken in 1967 at the Kinsmen Auditorium.)