Tommy Banks (1936-2018)

Tommy Banks
Tommy Banks

Year Born: 1936

Year Died: 2018


Banks, Tommy (1936- )

The appointment of Dr. Thomas Benjamin Banks to the Senate of Canada on April 7th 2000 was a crowning moment in the career and life of Tommy Banks, composer, pianist, conductor, producer, broadcaster and music educator, who was born in Calgary on December 17th 1936. His multiple talents have brought him national and international fame, and the Canadian broadcasting system has been the richer for his contributions in so many fields.

The Banks family moved to Edmonton in 1948, when Tommy was eleven.  He had taken piano lessons in Calgary, and by the time he was fourteen and still in school, he had joined the touring band of saxophonist Don (D.T.)Thompson, with whom he stayed for three years before forming his own band.  The Archives of University of Alberta radio station CKUA tell of Tommy’s band being one of the first in Canada to broadcast in stereo, when in 1959 CKUA AM provided the right speaker signal and CKUA-FM the left speaker.  Tommy was on the air on CKUA in one way or another from 1952 to 1983.

In the early 60s, Tommy’s piano was heard along with Harry Boon’s on a weekly 15-minute CBC-TV series called Keynotes, and in the context of his big band on CBC Radio. From 1968 to 1973, Tommy and his band were heard weekly on CBC-TV’s Tommy Banks Show, first as a regional show and later on the full network. He was seen again on CBC-TV from 1980 through 1983.

In 1974, Dr. Charles Allard was awarded the new independent television licence for CITV Edmonton. The eminence grise behind this application and the designer of ITV’s overall concept was Wendell Wilks. Wilks lured Tommy to ITV to front his own nightly Tommy Banks Show, and as some-time producer and music supervisor of a highly successful series of one-hour In Concert specials, starring the likes of Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Lou Rawls, Dionne Warwick, Mel Torme, Henry Mancini and Charles Aznavour. These were syndicated throughout the world.  Tommy also later appeared as music director of a syndicated talk-show series produced by Wilks in Vancouver, called Celebrity Revue. Musical direction and writing duties also found Tommy on series such as The Palace, starring Jack Jones, The Raes, Michel Legrand Presents, and innumerable TV specials.

Tommy was always interested in jazz, and his performances both as solo pianist and with groups have been heard frequently on Canadian radio and television, and his recordings have gained world-wide recognition.  In 1978 he took his own Big Band to the Montreux Jazz Festival, from which a two-LP set and later a two-CD set were released.

Tommy’s musical accomplishments have included participation as Conductor and/or Musical Director of the 1978 Commonwealth Games, The 1983 World University Games, EXPO ’86, and the Calgary XV Winter Olympic Games in Calgary in 1988.

Tommy received a Juno Award and the Grand Prix du Disque in 1979, an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Alberta in 1987, was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1991, won a Gemini Award (for best variety performance in television) in 1992, and received the Alberta Order of Excellence in 1993. In 1976, he was founding Chairman of the Alberta Foundation for the Performing Arts. The Foundation created the Tommy Banks Award to recognize outstanding music educators.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien made Tommy Banks a Senator on April 7th 2000. He has served on the Standing Committees of Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources; National Security and Defence; and National Finance. His Senate term ended on 16 December 2011.

Tommy Banks died peacefully in Edmonton on Thursday January 25th, at the age of 81.

Written by Pip Wedge – February, 2005