Dallas Murray Richards, CM, OBC, clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger, conductor, composer (born 5 January 1918 in Vancouver, BC; died 31 December 2015 in Vancouver). Known as Vancouver’s “King of Swing,” Dal Richards was one of British Columbia's most popular and enduring entertainers. His dance band played at the Hotel Vancouver for 25 years, was a staple at the Pacific National Exhibition for decades, and hosted popular New Year’s Eve parties in the city for 79 consecutive years. Richards discovered such artists as Juliette and Michael Bublé, and wrote theme songs for teams in the Canadian Football League. He was a Member of the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia and the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame.
Early Years and Career
After losing sight in one eye in a slingshot accident at age nine, Richards was encouraged by his doctor to take up a musical instrument. He was a member of the Kitsilano Boys' Band in his youth and founded a jazz band at Magee Secondary in 1937, the year he graduated. He began his professional career in the late 1930s as a clarinetist and saxophonist in the Vancouver dance bands of Sandy DeSantis and Stan Patton.
In 1940 Richards succeeded Mart Kenney as music director and bandleader at the Hotel Vancouver's Panorama Roof lounge. He remained there until 1965, during which time his orchestra, described as “the band at the top of the town,” was heard nationally on CBC Radio. Over the years, the 11-piece orchestra featured the singers Juliette, Richards’s first wife, Beryl Boden, and his second, Lorraine McAllister, as well as the trumpeters Chuck Barber and Gordon Delamont and the saxophonists Stan Patton and Lance Harrison. Visiting musicians included such high profile figures asBing Crosby, Bob Hope, Roy Rogers and Jack Benny. The orchestra also appeared elsewhere on the west coast and made the LP Dance Date with Dal (1964, Lon EB-12). Its theme was “The Hour of Parting.”
Richards concurrently was music director of CBC and CTV shows and, from 1954 to 1986, music director of half-time presentations at BC Lions football games. In this latter capacity, he made the LP CFL Songs (1968, CTL CTLS-5104/RCA CTLS-1104), a collection of team fight songs that includes arguably his best-known compositions: “Roar You Lions Roar” (lyrics by Peggy Miller) and "Go Argos Go."
After losing his gig at the Hotel Vancouver in 1965 due to the declining interest in swing, Richards studied hotel management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and then took managerial posts at several establishments. He resumed performing regularly in the Vancouver area with his orchestra in the 1980s, and released the albums Swing Is In...Let's Dance (1982, Aragon AR-82-203) and Swing Is In...Let's Dance, Vol 2 (1983, Aragon AR-83-204), each featuring hits from the swing era.
In 1992, he started his weekly big band radio show, Dal's Place, which aired for more than 20 years on various Vancouver stations. His life was chronicled in the television documentaries Dal Richards: What Legends Are Made Of (1998) and Big Band Boom! (1997), the latter featured the national television debut of singer Michael Bublé, whom Richards discovered while adjudicating a PNE talent search in 1993.
Through the 1990s and 2000s, Richards continued to be one of British Columbia's most popular and enduring entertainers. He continued to perform locally with his 14-piece big band or a smaller combo as a staple at the Pacific National Exhibition and CFL games, as well as private events and dances. His signature event remained his annual New Year’s Eve party, which he led for 79 consecutive years from 1936 to 2014. In 2012, he established an official Guinness World Record for longest lapsed time between performances by a high school bandleader when he led the Magee Jazz Band in a performance almost 75 years to the day after his last concert with the group.
Honours and Tributes
Richards was inducted onto the BC Lions Wall of Fame in recognition of his many years as the team’s musical director. He received lifetime achievement awards from Tourism Vancouver and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, as well as the Civic Merit Award from the City of Vancouver. He was given the Heart Award from the Variety Club of British Columbia, as well as a Presidential Citation from Variety International, for his long-time commitment to the children’s charity. Richards also used the proceeds from his 90th birthday celebration, including a $100,000 donation from businessman and fellow Kits Boys’ Band alum Jim Pattison, to establish the Dal Richards Foundation, which supports music programs and scholarships for young musicians across BC.
Richardson carried the Olympic torch during the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, and later that year served as the grand marshal of the 100th anniversary parade of the PNE. Following his death on New Year’s Eve 2015, radio and television personality Red Robinson called him “a tremendous man. Never mind musician. He was a great man.” Jim Pattison said, “He was an icon around here. I mean, Dal Richards was the perfect ambassador for Vancouver.”
Presidential Citation, Variety International (1993)
Civic Merit Award, City of Vancouver (1994)
Inductee, BC Entertainment Hall of Fame (1994)
Member, Order of Canada (1994)
Honorary Doctorate, British Columbia Institute of Technology (1999)
Honorary Doctorate, Open Learning Agency (2001)
Golden Jubilee Medal, Government of Canada (2002)
Member, Order of British Columbia (2003)
Inductee, BC Lions Wall of Fame, Builder Category (2003)
Heritage Award, Western Canada Music Awards (2005)
Honorary Doctorate, University of British Columbia (2010)
Inductee, BC Football Hall of Fame (2012)
Diamond Jubilee Medal, Government of Canada (2012)