Did you know that a St. Boniface-born singer once held all top five spots on the South African record charts and earned A&M Records its first gold record? And do you know that a Winnipeg-born songwriter is credited with penning two of the greatest cowboy songs of all time -- Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water? Or that Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch was named for a Winnipeg-born folk singer/songwriter?
How about that the world-renowned queen of Celtic music got her start singing at Winnipeg's Hollow Mug dinner theatre? Or that one of the finest blues/boogie woogie piano players in North America began her career playing for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet? And did you know that a popular local children's entertainer numbered some 50 million viewers for his weekly television show?
Do you know that a celebrated Manitoba-born opera diva made her American debut singing alongside Placido Domingo and has sung at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera? And did you know that a Winnipeg rock band once played at the White House by special invitation of Tricia Nixon?
And were you aware that Manitoba recording artists in a variety of music genres account for well in excess of 100 million records sold worldwide?
Back in August of last year, the Free Press published my response to a news story that suggested a music museum in Winnipeg was a dead issue. Not so. The dream is very much alive.
As a first step towards achieving this worthy goal, the Manitoba Museum is hosting Shakin' All Over: The Manitoba Music Experience from July 1 to September 6 in Alloway Hall. Sponsored by the MME (Manitoba Music Experience Inc., a dedicated group of civic leaders), the 6,000-square-foot exhibit is a joint private and public-funded multi-media celebration of the rich, colourful and diverse musical heritage of our province as represented by nine music genre pods: First Nations and Métis, Franco-Manitoban, folk and roots, country music, blues, jazz, children and family music, classical and opera, and rock music.
Each individual pod is chock full of photos, artifacts, memorabilia and made-in-Manitoba music of that particular genre. The exhibit itself boosts more than 400 photos. There are video displays of both vintage and current Manitoba artists on video screens throughout the exhibit as well as on a giant screen.
Visitors can see multi-platinum francophone singer/songwriter Daniel Lavoie's 1967 piano, bluesmen Brent Parkin and Big Dave McLean's vintage guitars; Al Simmons' original seven-foot high Human Jukebox; Errol 'C-Weed' Ranville's distinctive cowboy hat; the custom-made stage dress and boots worn by Cindi Cain at Nashville's Fan Fare; Loreena McKennitt's elaborate gown worn in her "The Bonny Swans" video as well as her platinum album award; original posters from Jazz Winnipeg Festivals signed by all the artists; the famous 'bubblegum' dress; Guillaume's suit; the bronze telescope, and the original production maquette from Manitoba Opera's spectacular Transit of Venus; a Manitoba-made Linkon pedal steel guitar; Fred 'BTO' Turner's 5-string bass and platinum record award; an original cel from The Simpson's featuring BTO and signed by Matt Groening; Guess Who guitarist Kurt Winter's Gibson guitar; vintage Garnet amplifiers; and even the original footage of the Beatles' stopover in Winnipeg in 1964. Plus band jackets, T-shirts, posters, rare recordings, magazines, newsletters, autographed photos, even the door to the notorious 1960s-era downtown Cellar club.
And this is only some of what there is to see and experience. Each weekend will feature live presentations and performances on a stage in the exhibit hosted by the various genres plus special events throughout the summer.
The Shakin' All Over summer exhibit is merely the tip of the iceberg and a teaser for what a permanent Manitoba music facility could include. We've only scratched the surface. There is a lot more history to preserve and celebrate. In addition, educational and outreach programs, workshops, and archives will allow further generations to learn from and appreciate our vast and diverse musical heritage.
Come to the Shakin' All Over exhibit this summer and enjoy the memorabilia, music and memories (and learn the answers to the above questions). Share in the nostalgia of the past and excitement of the future. And visit our website at http://www.manitobamusicexperience.ca to share your own memories of Manitoba music and artists and for more information about how you can help make the dream of a permanent Manitoba Music Experience facility a reality.
John Einarson is a local music historian and author of more than a dozen books.