Gee, Fred M.
Fred M. (Melsom Edward) Gee. Impresario, organist, pianist, b Cardiff 21 Jul 1882, d Winnipeg 8 Jun 1947. His early musical studies were in his native Wales. In 1902 he emigrated to Canada, establishing himself as organist, accompanist, and teacher in Winnipeg. He joined the staff of the Winnipeg College of Music in 1903. That same year he became organist-choirmaster at Westminster United Church, the first of a succession of such positions he held until the mid-1920s. He also served as organist for the Winnipeg Oratorio Society throughout its existence, 1908-28. In 1911, with Joseph M. Tees, he undertook to present a concert by the violinist Mischa Elman. The venture was successful, and Gee continued to present artists, but only occasionally until 1926, when a recital by Amelita Galli-Curci drew an audience of 7200 and persuaded him to give up teaching and become a full-time impresario.
Gee's first Celebrity Concert Series, in 1927, offered seven concerts at Central Congregational Church; his second, in 1928, nine. The 1930 series moved to the Playhouse, and the 1932 series to the Winnipeg Auditorium, where the opening concert, by the baritone Lawrence Tibbett, drew 4000. Two years later the Winnipeg series was repeated in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Regina. In 1938 his Winnipeg season, with a subscription of 3500, was described as the largest concert series on the North American continent. By 1944, 391 concerts had been given in Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, and Edmonton. By the time of Gee's death in 1947, a 12-concert season was offered in Winnipeg and a second company - Celebrity Concerts Canada, Ltd - had been founded under the direction of his eldest son, A. (Arthur) K. Gee, to present concerts in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In 1950 the younger Gee, who had succeeded to full control of the Gee concert enterprises, formed with Gordon Hilker the Western Concert Agency and expanded his circuit to include many towns in northern areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
For some 10 years the new enterprise expanded, but the founder's absence was felt sorely. Fred M. Gee had known personally many of the artists who performed for him, and there always was the feeling, as with the Hambourgs in Toronto, that he was promoting music and his colleagues in music. Four months before his death, at the 106th performance given in Winnipeg under his management by the Minneapolis SO, Gee himself was the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Edward MacDowell, with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting.
In Gee's 36 years as an impresario some hundreds of performers appeared in Canadian cities under his aegis, from Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Feodor Chaliapin to Sergei Rachmaninoff and Josef Hofmann. (Indeed, most of the guest artists listed in Winnipeg were invited by Gee.) This impressive list could not be matched by the artists presented after Fred M. Gee's death. Steep increases in fees for major artists led inevitably to an increasing admixture of minor ones and a tendency to accept 'package deals' from the New York concert agencies, and improvements in the sound of recorded music left the public critical of live performances in acoustically poor halls. These trends depressed ticket sales, and in 1968 the Celebrity Concert Series, as such, ceased. Celebrity Concerts Canada (1972) Ltd carried on only as a box office for a miscellany of entertainments and as head office for A.K. Gee's World Adventure Tours. A.K. Gee died in 1975, and his wife, Margaret W., succeeded him as president, a position she continued to hold in 1991.