Don Wright

Don (Donald John Alexander) Wright. Choir conductor, arranger, composer, educator, b Strathroy, near London, Ont, 6 Sep 1908, d Toronto 27 June 2006; BA classics (Western Ont) 1933, honorary D Mus (Western) 1986, honorary L Mus (Western Ont Conservatory) 1987, honorary D Mus (Victoria) 2001.

Wright, Don

Don (Donald John Alexander) Wright. Choir conductor, arranger, composer, educator, b Strathroy, near London, Ont, 6 Sep 1908, d Toronto 27 June 2006; BA classics (Western Ont) 1933, honorary D Mus (Western) 1986, honorary L Mus (Western Ont Conservatory) 1987, honorary D Mus (Victoria) 2001. His father was the founder and owner of the Wright Piano Co (1908-24). Wright began studying cello at seven and trumpet at ten. With his brothers, Clark, Ernest, and William, he organized the Wright Brothers' Orchestra, which performed 1921-35 in Ontario dance halls.

In London, Ont, he was director of music 1940-6 in local schools, then manager 1946-56 of radio station CFPL. There, in 1947, he founded the CFPL Chorus (1949-56, the Don Wright Chorus), a 14-voice mixed choir whose Sunday night radio broadcasts of popular and light classical music on the CBC Dominion network 1947-56 and simultaneously in the USA on MBS 1949-50 and NBC 1955-6, brought it considerable fame.

In 1955 his arrangement of Warwick Webster's 'Man in a Raincoat,' recorded for the Unique label by his daughter Priscilla (b London, Ont, 14 Aug 1940), was an international hit and resulted in her appearance 1 Jul 1955 in New York on CBS TV's 'The Ed Sullivan Show.'

Wright moved in 1957 to Toronto, where he formed the Don Wright Singers (1957-62) and composed commercials and scores for films and TV, including the CBC's 'Trail of '98' (1958) and 'Seaway to the World' (1959). He also composed Proudly We Praise (Thompson 1966), a tribute to Canada, which has been performed by school choirs across the country. As an educator he took a particular interest in the changing voice; his publications, choral and educational, included The Collegiate Choir (2 vols, Waterloo 1938, 1939), Youthful Voices (3 vols, Thompson 1945, 1949, 1954), Fun to Read Music (Thompson 1952), and Pre-teen Song Settings (Thompson 1961). His Fifty Years of Music with Don Wright, a photocopied collection of writings and music (20 vol, two cassettes) prepared in 1980, was distributed to Canadian universities and is also held at Library and Archives Canada.

In 1966 Wright began to establish music education university scholarships in his own name. He extended his philanthropic endeavours by giving millions of dollars to university music programs, notably to the University of Western Ontario, which renamed its music faculty after him in 2002. Wright received the Canada 125 medal and distinguished service awards from the Ontario Choral Federation and the University of Toronto. He became a member of the Order of Canada in 2001. He was the son-in-law of the Rt Hon Arthur Meighen.

Priscilla Wright, later based in Ottawa, has sung with Moxie Whitney and the National Press Club and Allied Workers Jazz Band, and appeared in big-band 'pops' concerts with several Ontario symphony orchestras. Her recordings during the 1980s included a new version of 'Man in a Raincoat' issued by Tembo in 1988, and singles for Broadland (eg, 'Pure Love'), Paylode ('Heartbeat,' 'Hungry,' etc) and Comstock.


Further Reading

  • Frayne, Trent. 'Neighbours who sing for Canada,' Maclean's, 1 Mar 1950

    'Musical salute to Canada a national best-seller,' Canadian Composer, 16, Mar 1967