Dal Richards, a legendary big band leader in Vancouver for over 70 years died on December 31 at age 97.
Richards and his saxophone and clarinet were first heard in the Sandy DeSantis and Stan Paton bands. On 1 May 1940, Richards, his 11-piece band and a then-unknown 13-year-old Juliette were booked to replace Mart Kenneyand His Western Gentlemen, Canada’s leading dance band at the time. This initial six-week contract was extended to 25 years of regular performances and broadcasts at “The Roof”.
When musical tastes changed in the mid-1960s and work dried up, Richards went into hotel management. Gradually the interest in swing and big band music picked up. In 1982–1983, Richards and his band recorded a pair of well-received revival albums. Mayor Mike Harcourt of Vancouver declared 3 February 1984 “Dal Richards’ Day”.
Richards and his band continued to perform in the Lower Mainland, from the PNE band stand to the annual New Year celebration at the Bayshore Hotel. Richards’ band played 79 consecutive New Year’s Eve concerts, until his death at 11:41 p.m.
Richards led his band for many years in a weekly CBC Radio show broadcast nationally from the Panorama Roof Ballroom of the Hotel Vancouver. Richards also hosted a weekly one-hour show on radio station CISL.
Richards is commonly thought to be the lyricist of “Roar You Lions Roar”, the fight song of the BC Lions football club set to the music of “I Love the Sunshine of Your Smile”. Peggy Miller of CJCA, an Edmonton radio station, wrote the lyrics in 1953, and Dal Richards arranged and popularized the song with his band’s performance at games. His 1968 album CFL Songs popularized “Roar You Lions Roar”, “Go Argos Go”, “On Roughriders” and many other songs still heard to this day in CFL stadiums.
“I was walking through Spirit Park with my mum when suddenly I tripped and fell, and something pierced my eye. From then on, I was blind in my left eye. I completely fell apart psychologically — as only a nine-year-old can fall apart… The therapist suggested my mum buy me a musical instrument, so she bought me a clarinet and that’s how…my musical career began.”