Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen

The band made its radio debut in 1934 on CJOR from the Alexandra Ballroom and for three seasons appeared at the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Alberta.

Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen

 Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen. Canada's leading dance band in the 1930s and 1940s. It was formed in 1931 for an engagement at Vancouver's Alexandra Ballroom by Mart (Herbert Martin) Kenney (b Toronto 7 Mar 1910, d Mission, BC 8 Feb 2006; honorary LLD, Lethbridge, 1985), an alto and baritone saxophonist and clarinetist who played during the late 1920s in the CJOR radio orchestra and with Len Chamberlain at the Hotel Vancouver. The founding five - Kenney, the trumpeter-pianist Glen Griffith, the trumpeter Jack Hemmings, the saxophonist Bert Lister, and the bassist Hec MacCallum - were joined later in 1931 by the drummer Ed Emel and in 1932 by the vocalist-saxophonist-pianist Art Hallman.

The band made its radio debut in 1934 on CJOR from the Alexandra Ballroom and for three seasons appeared at the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Alberta. There, as Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen, it made its CRBC debut in 1934 with the program 'Rocky Mountain Melody Time,' taking the 1922 Billy Hill-Larry Yoell waltz 'The West, a Nest and You, Dear' as its theme-song. A succession of engagements followed 1934-7 at CPR hotels, including the Hotel Vancouver, where the band's most popular CRBC/CBC program, 'Sweet and Low,' began in 1935. The band initiated summer tours of eastern Canada in 1937 and appeared for the first of many seasons at Toronto's Royal York Hotel.

In 1938 it began recording for RCA and by 1951 it had made some 25 78s for its Victor and Bluebird labels, as well as 2 for the Dominion company. Hits included 'The West, a Nest and You, Dear,' 'There's Honey on the Moon Tonight,' and the Kenney song 'We're Proud of Canada'.

Relocating in 1940 in Toronto, the band continued 'Sweet and Low' 1940-2 and was featured until 1949 on other commercially sponsored CBC programs. Its broadcasts were picked up in the USA by CBS or the NBC 'Blue' network and in Britain by the BBC. During four cross-Canada tours 1943-5 the band was heard twice-weekly on 'The Victory Parade with Canada's Spotlight Band,' broadcasting from army camps and war plants. After 1949, Mart Kenney's Ranch, a dance hall near Woodbridge north of Toronto, was the site of the band's CBC broadcasts. Other bands also appeared there as Kenney continued to tour into the 1960s. With his retirement to Mission, BC, in 1969, the band broke up and the ranch closed. Thereafter Kenney organized orchestras for special occasions such as CBC TV's 'In the Mood' in 1971 and a CNE appearance in 1975, and for engagements throughout the 1980s in the Vancouver area.

Although initially a septet, the Western Gentlemen among them played some 30 instruments and featured the vocal trio 'Three of a Kind' (Kenney, Griffith, and Hallman). A 12-piece band on its first recordings, it added four violins for 'Sweet and Low' from Vancouver and Toronto and for some of its later Victor recordings in Montreal. (Violinists in Vancouver included Ricky Hyslop and Cardo Smalley; in Toronto, Hyman Goodman, Samuel Hersenhoren, and Albert Pratz.) Featured singers were Hallman 1932-44, Eleanor Bartelle in 1936, Georgia Dey in 1937, Beryl Boden in 1940, Judy Richards 1940-3, Veronica Foster 1943-4, Norma Locke 1944-69, Roy Roberts 1946-9, and Wally Koster 1949-52. The band's most popular vocalist, Norma (Beth) Locke (b Montreal 15 Oct 1923, d Mission 17 Sep 1990, a one-time student at the TCM and singer with the Joe DeCourcy and Howard Cable dance bands), married Kenney in 1952.

The personnel of the Western Gentlemen changed frequently after 1940, and some former members, including Bobby Gimby, Art Hallman, the pianist Jack Fowler, and the saxophonist Stan Patton, formed their own bands, which were initially managed by the Kenney booking agency, established in the late 1940s.

A versatile dance band, neither excessively 'sweet' nor too boldly 'swinging,' Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen made a particular impact on the Canadian public with their tours during the war years and achieved some popularity in the USA through their recordings and broadcasts. In 1980 Kenney was made a Member of the Order of Canada.


The West, a Nest, and You, Dear. 1938-49. RCA Camden CAL-776 (anthology)

Mart Kenney and His Orchestra. 1964. CTL CTLS-5053

Further Reading