Year Born: 1937
Hunter, Tommy (1937- )
At the age of 28, Tommy got his own music show, which would turn into the longest running weekly music show on any North American TV network. He may not have known it, but he’d been preparing for it since he was nine when he started music lessons on a rented guitar in his hometown of London, Ont., a month after seeing Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys on stage.
Tommy Hunter honed his music skills – and his skills at assessing an audience – as a young teen playing at community events like garden parties, legion dinners, and to church audiences. He transcribed many of the lyrics by hand in listening booths at record shops.
A role as a hillbilly singer in a theatre production led to Tommy’s first radio performance when he was 15 and was called on cold to perform live on-air for 30 minutes. In 1956 he joined CBC-TV’s Country Hoedown as a rhythm guitarist with King Ganam’s Sons of the West and in 1965 Country Hoedown was succeeded by The Tommy Hunter Show. It ran Friday nights for 27 years until 1992 and was also carried by The Nashville Network pay channel in the U.S.
Tommy Hunter’s live appearances didn’t end. He would test features on live audiences before adding them to his TV show and he became famous for his ability to get audience participation, and for his manners, which led to him being dubbed Canada’s Country Gentleman. Shania Twain, then Eileen, is among the future successes who showcased their talents on The Tommy Hunter Show before they were famous.
In 1986 he was appointed to the Order of Canada and in 1996 the Order of Ontario. In 1990 he was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame “Walkway of Stars”. He was also honoured with a Broadcasting Industry Achievement Award, was made an Honorary Citizen of the State of Tennessee and a Kentucky Colonel, received three Junos and a Gemini, and in 1999 was given a Lifetime Achievement award by the Ontario Country Music Association.
For much of his career, Tommy Hunter used his talents to help charitable organizations. When The Tommy Hunter Show ended, he increased his touring. His autobiography My Story was published in 1985.
From the mid-90s, Tommy lived in Stuart, Fla., until a skin cancer scare sent him and his wife, Shirley, back to Ontario to live in Aberfoyle, close to Toronto, although they kept a place in Phoenix.
Written by Jerry Fairbridge – May, 2002