January 9, 1914 – November 18, 2001
Billy (William) O’Connor. Singer, pianist, songwriter, agent, b Kingston, Ont, 9 Jan 1914, d Toronto 18 Nov 2001. His father, Tommy (Thomas John) O’Connor (b Kingston 1871, d Toronto 1947), was a pianist and entertainer who, during the late 1880s, worked in the USA with Lew Dockstader’s Minstrels and was accompanist to the magicians Blackstone and Thurston. The elder O’Connor later performed throughout eastern Ontario as part of the team Crosby and O’Connor.
The younger O’Connor was taught to play piano by his father after the family moved to Toronto in 1919. He served as an entertainment corporal in the Canadian Army during World War II and began working in Toronto nightclubs in 1947 and, with broadcasts from the Club Norman, undertook a CBC career in 1948. O’Connor continued on CBC radio into the early 1960s and was also heard 1954-9 nationally on a syndicated program sponsored by Coca-Cola and in 1961 locally on CHUM. His CBC TV career began with Four for the Show, which led to the variety series The Billy O’Connor Show 1954-6 (at CKCO-TV Ed.), Club O’Connor in 1957, and ‘Saturday Date’ 1958-9. His programs were noted for introducing new talent, including Peter Appleyard, Juliette, Vanda King, Sylvia Murphy, Rhonda Silver, and the Two Tones (of whom one was Gordon Lightfoot).
In 1960 O’Connor turned full-time to Billy O’Connor Enterprises, an agency founded in 1954 and still active in 2000. For more than 30 years he took shows to southern Ontario prisons and hospitals, performing for inmates and patients. In 1969 he booked entertainment for the CNE Grandstand and Bandshell; he continued to organize variety shows for, and to perform at, the latter venue until the early 1980s. O’Connor himself retired from performance late in the decade.
O’Connor’s recordings include a 1948 hit with his song ‘Saskatchewan’ (also recorded in the USA as ‘Washington’) and the LP Together Again (1968, Arc AS-769), a reunion of his 1950s trio – the guitarist Kenny Gill, the accordionist Vic Centro, and the bassist Jack Richardson – assisted by the drummer Doug MacLeod. O’Connor had songs (including ‘Saskatchewan’) published by BMI Canada and Broadland Music. O’Connor’s son is the pop musician Gary O.