Canadian big band leader Mart Kenney dies

Mart Kenney, once known as Canada's Big Band King for the swing orchestras he led in the 1930s and '40s, has died at age 95. Kenney died Wednesday at a retirement home in Mission, British Columbia, said his daughter Lisa Kenney.

Kenney had been afflicted with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. In addition he suffered a bad fall nearly two years ago, after which he was persuaded to move into the retirement home. "He was Canada's Glenn Miller and he's the last of that era," said John Dimon, music producer and publisher of Music World magazine.

"A wonderful man. I mean he was so dignified and so talented and so gentle. He was just really first class." Veteran broadcaster and friend Lymon Potts said Kenney was Canada's most popular dance band leader and outlived all of the old-timers in North America.

His death brings down the curtain on a music era, Potts said. "More people danced to Mart's music than to that of any Canadian orchestra," he said. "He was a true pioneer in Canadian network radio."

Debuting in Vancouver's Alexandra Ballroom in 1931, Mart and the Western Gentlemen quickly became known for their cross-country barnstorming, playing at such prestigious hotels as Chateau Lake Louise, Hotel Saskatchewan, Banff Springs, the Brant Inn and Toronto's Royal York.

They were the first Canadian band to broadcast on Canadian, U.S. and international radio networks, and the broadcasts were soon identified with the phrase "sweet and low."

In 1938, Kenney's was the first Canadian band to record for RCA Victor. During World War II the band entertained troops and war workers in a series of Victory performances. The band's leading vocalist was Norma Locke who eventually married Kenney. She died in 1990.

He was honored with the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal and the Order of Canada _ Canada's highest honor. He was also a member of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters hall of fame, reports the AP.

N.U.