Don Wright’s Legacy Finds a New Home

25 Bright Red Binders

When I took over the care of the NT Archives in the 1990s, they were situated in a former kitchen in the basement of the old school. At the time, I noticed a stack of binders piled high amid the rafters of the storage room. There were 25 of these bright red books, with gold lettering on the spines declaring that they were the Don Wright Collection. I had a huge job just trying to identify and organize the Archives, and so I left the binders to sleep where they were and focused on more immediate tasks.

Who Was Don Wright?

However, I did enquire of the Music Department, Just who was this Don Wright? I heard waves of accolades in reply. I was interested to learn that he was the father of Priscilla Wright, who leapt to fame with her rendition of “Man in a Raincoat”—in an arrangement performed by Don and his combo, The Septette (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEnZNsMdX3k). I remembered the song from the hit parade of my teen years—we all knew the words and sang the song. Little could I have suspected that I would be intimately connected to his music 50 years later!

But arranging and performing hit songs was just one aspect of Don Wright’s many remarkable accomplishments. When we had to move the Archives to the new school, I got the binders down from the rafters and inspected them. They contained the scores and notations of a good deal of the music he had written and arranged! I was not sure how these relics had arrived in the NT Archives, but I knew that they belonged somewhere more accessible and relevant than our small Archives room.

Discovering the Connection to NT

Once I examined the binders in detail, I saw there was definitely a connection to NT, and when I dug a bit deeper, I quickly discovered what it was. It seems that Don wrote and arranged a good deal of the music for all the high schools of the former Toronto Board. But he and NT’s legendary Jack Dow were particularly good friends—going all the way back to Jack’s student days at the University of Western Ontario—as reflected in the fact that the medleys for Maytime Melodies throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s were largely Don Wright arrangements.*

Two binders in the collection relate to North Toronto music, including what is probably the first arrangement of our school song, “Hail! North Toronto.” However it occurred, at some point many years ago, Don Wright seems to have given the binders to the NT Music Department as a temporary loan. I discovered a note in the back of one of the binders, asking that once we had used them they be lodged with the Don Wright Collection at the University of Western Ontario. They had languished at NTCI unremarked for donkey’s years! That was partly due to my own neglect and my ignorance of their significance.

The Collection Returns to Western

Over the last two years, Carole Whelan and I worked to elicit a response from Western University. Finally, to our surprise and great satisfaction, we received an enthusiastic reply from the Dean of the Don Wright Faculty of Music at Western. So at the end of August 2015, we packed the binders in boxes and made the trek out to London to deliver them to the Music Archives, where they received a fitting welcome. So now, I feel very relieved and happy that they have found a good home.

*For more about the connection between Jack Dow and Don Wright, see the Foundation’s Spring 2007 newsletter (http://ntci.on.ca/foundation/files/news/FN-Spring 2007.pdf). For a complete list of Maytime Melodies medleys, see page 22 of the Melodies Forever program (http://ntci.on.ca/files/nt100th/NT_100th_music_program.pdf).

—Nancy Baines, NTCI Archivist

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