In the late 1940s, at the height of the dance band era, Calgary trumpet player and band leader Gordon Southern started playing music for dancers. Through the 1960s his groups of 8 to 12 local professional and semi-professional musicians entertained at gala functions in and around Calgary, but Gordon always had a vision of bringing a larger band to the city.
Saxophone player Fred Bray joined the group in 1969, and Gord approached him for help putting together a larger group in the style of the classic Big Band of the 1930s and 40s with 5 saxophones, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, vocals and a rhythm section. The vision Gord and Fred held for the band was to always play dance music for dancers, to attract experienced musicians who loved to play the music, and to give opportunities for younger musicians interested in the big band sound.
From the mid-1970s through the 1980s Gordon Southern Big Band Sounds was playing regularly at the Palliser Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, the Calgary Inn (the Westin today), local conventions, weddings, New Year’s galas, and the local Jazz Festivals. Many of the city’s top musicians were attracted to the group.
In 1991, Gordon Southern passed away, leaving the question of how the band would continue. Generously, the Southern family agreed to allow the band to continue using Gordon’s library of band music as long as they remained a rehearsing and performing group.
The band continued under the direction of Fred Bray until 1996, when he retired. The band enjoyed great success in this time, highlighted by a week long gig at the 1992 Calgary Stampede.
In 1996, the band name was changed to Southern Stardust Big Band Sounds to honour the memory of Gordon Southern, and reflect the title of the favourite song of then band leader, John Mackie. “Stardust” became the now familiar band theme song.
The band’s music library has grown through the years. In addition to Gordon Southern’s collection, local band leader Capt. Ray McLeod and Don Messervey of Markham, Ontario both generously donated their own music libraries to the group. Southern Stardust is also indebted to the prolific work of local arrangers like Shel Richardson, Doug Fox, and Jim Brandenburg.
Since 2000, the group has seen great success bringing the Southern Stardust Big Band name into greater prominence in the Calgary music scene. Highlights of recent years include the annual tradition of elegant Dinner Dances at the Austrian Canadian Club held each February, vocalist Theresa Wasden’s “Big Band Honeymoon” concerts, and events all over Southern Alberta, even as far afield as Swift Current, Saskatchewan.
In October 2003, the band enjoyed a great milestone when John Worthington, the “Old-Disc Jockey” on Alberta’s CKUA Radio Network produced a 2 hour, live broadcast of the band, which the band subsequently released as a CD recording.
Through the years, the Southern Stardust Big Band has remained true to Gordie Southern’s original vision of bringing top class big band sound to Calgary dancers and music lovers, while supporting and enjoying the talents of local musicians and arrangers. At its most fundamental level the band remains a showcase for the many great local musicians who play for the pure love of the music.
Enjoy the show!