Heavenly Harmony: The Story Of The Laurie Bower Singers
Built around the choral arranging and trombone mastery of Laurie Bower, the Laurie Bower Singers were one of the CBC's most in demand vocal groups of the 1960's to 1980's (alongside Ben McPeek, Johnny Burt, and a number of others).
Laurie Bower (Lawrence Wayne Bower) was born near Kirkland Lake on August 31st 1933, to parents George and Rose Bower. He spent his youth in a musical household, nursing a deep love for pop and big band sounds. In grade school, he developed a love for choral singing and would join the school choir. This formed the basis of his musical journey.
As the years wore on, in his teens he began playing the trombone. He began studying composition, and music theory in high school. He earned his bachelor's degree of music at U of T in 1957; after studying choral technique, music theory/composition and the trombone with Harry Stevenson of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Upon graduation, Laurie found no shortage of groups to join. He played in the dance bands of Benny Louis, Ozzie Williams and Mart Kenney before joining the Five Playboys. The Five Playboys had a regular gig on CBC-TV's "The Jack Kane Show."
After a few months with the Jack Kane gig Laurie grew restless. He'd soon after go solo as a trombonist, singer and choral arranger, and became a sought-after session man in Toronto studios.
His most notable role thus far was conducting the Young Canada Singers, a group of 10-year-old children, in the English version of Bobby Gimby’s Centennial-year anthem, Ca-na-da. This, plus his success as an in-demand session player and arranger, emboldened him to again strike out on his own, and start a group of his own. In 1967, The Laurie Bower Singers were born!
The original vocal quintet consisted of: Kathy Collier, Laurie Bower, Patty Van Evera, Tommy Ambrose, and Vern Kennedy. In time, they were succeeded by Cal Dodd, Bill Misener, Colina Phillips, Judy Tate and Stephanie Taylor.
The Laurie Bower Singers became known for their silky smooth harmonies and sugary sweet interpretations of some of the most popular songs of the day; covering everyone from Neil Diamond, to Michael Jackson, to even Supertramp, as the years went on.
The group got their musical start on the "CBC Song Market" compilations from 1967 and 1968. The songs they recorded are fantastic examples of what was to come on their debut album in 1969. Throughout 1967 and 1968 they'd sing on dozens of commercials and radio jingles, as well as albums by some of Toronto's contemporary Jazz and Country artists (Ben McPeek, Eugene Amaro, Mary Lou Collins, The Mutual Understanding, Guido Basso, The Billy Van Singers, and a few others). They'd also appear on TV multiple times throughout the late 60's; on shows such as "In Person, Barris & Company, and Mallets & Company."
Their debut album in 1969 contained a number of fantastic song choices, including Didn't We by Jimmy Webb and Early Morning Rain by Gordon Lightfoot; masterfully performed by both the LBS, as well as the orchestras directed by Guido Basso and Moe Koffman. The true M.V.P. on this album and why I think this album really stands out in their catalogue is Rick Wilkins. One of Toronto's greatest arrangers, who had previously worked with the group on The Mutual Understanding albums as well as Guido Basso's Christmas album. Backed by an 18-piece orchestra directed by Guido Basso and Moe Koffman, Rick put together breezy, cascading arrangements, to create a mellow sound comparable to that of the Ray Conniff Singers or the Anita Kerr Singers.
Over the subsequent years the group would gain a following as well as a presence on AM radio of the early-to-mid 1970's. They'd release over a dozen albums by 1981 (mostly for Lyman Potts Canadian Talent Library label) full of fantastic cover versions and very few originals, and recorded hundreds of jingles and commercials for various companies and entities. They were truly one of the top and most in-demand vocal groups in Canada of the day.
Three of the bands final albums received US releases between 1979 and 1981, which surely one would figure would only help bolster their success. Unfortunately it did little to stem the tides of change. Laurie Bower was growing restless and looked to other creative outlets. In 1981, Bower became a founder of the Spitfire Band, serving as its vocal arranger and as one of its trombonists. He also began playing during the early 1980s with big bands or orchestras led by Peter Appleyard, Guido Basso and Jim Galloway, and with Al Lawrie's Jazz Corporation.
The Laurie Bower Singers carried on in a limited capacity throughout the 1980's until their retirement in 1990. The sheer number of jingles they recorder over the their roughly 25 year history is astounding; Cal Dodd was quoted as saying they recorded at least 2 jingles, every day, for 25 years. The group had a knack for covering obscure Canadian compositions. They’ve left behind a vocal legacy that surely will stand uncontested in Canadian music for some time.
WRITTEN & RESEARCHED BY: AARON LUSCH