Happy Birthday Tommy Hunter!
Happy 80th Birthday today to Canada’s Country Gentleman Tommy Hunter. Whenever I watch an old clip of the Tommy Hunter Show on you-tube, it takes me back to my childhood and Saturday nights. The Tommy Hunter Show followed Hockey Night in Canada when I was a kid, and just like the hockey game, some Saturday nights it came in clearer through those rabbit ears than others. Everyone from Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty to Shania Twain and Garth Brooks performed on the Tommy Hunter Show. Those are huge country stars and throw in Reba McEntire, Waylon Jennings, Hank Snow, Charley Pride and other Country Music Hall of Fame members and you get the picture of how popular the show was. Some of the biggest country stars ever sang on the Tommy Hunter Show and if it were available for purchase today I’d have my wallet out.
Just as kids today grow up idolizing and wanting to be country music sensations like Garth Brooks or Keith Urban so too did Tommy. In Tommy’s case he grew up wanting to be just like his idol Roy Acuff. When Tommy was just 9 years of age his father took him to see Roy perform and Tommy used the basis of that show to form his own television show in 1965. It began on CBC radio in 1960 before making the jump to television 5 years later and would run for the next 27 years on CBC Television ending in 1992.
As for who came up with the Phrase Canada’s Country Gentleman that’s still a mystery. “It’s sure stuck but I haven’t got a clue where it came from” he told me in 2008. As I talked to Tommy for the next 20 minutes on a call that was supposed to be 5-7 minutes in length I began to clearly understand the "how" part of it though.
Not too many television hosts would be quick to admit that the end of their show was the highest rated portion of the broadcast but not Tommy Hunter. The truth is that the end of the broadcast was the best part. The circle of stars with the regular cast all taking turns in the center singing and everyone joining in. Then at the very end of the show Tommy would come out, sometimes with a book in hand and sing or recite a poem of inspiration. I, just like everyone else, wondered just how much was in that book and I was shocked to ask him and find out that there really wasn’t anything in it at all. But Tommy would perform his song and then look at the camera and say Thank you to all the guests and the viewers at home and then would come those iconic words. “Be the good Lord willing we’ll be talking to you next week”.
Be the Good Lord Willing Tommy, may you live to be 100 and thank you for the music and memories. Happy Birthday!
Order of Canada - his Nation’s highest civilian award, given for his exceptional public career and his exemplary family life - 1986.
Broadcasting Industry "Achievement Award" - from Canada’s Broadcast Executive Society -1977.
Honorary Citizen of the State of Tennessee - 1987,
Lifetime Achievement Award - Canadian Gospel Music Association - 2005.