Johnny Cowell, a 73-year member of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), is considered to be one of Canada’s most renowned trumpet soloists. Over the years, he’s worked with many of Canada’s symphony orchestras and concert bands.
Born in Tillsonbur, Ontario, Cowell played his first trumpet solo at age six. At 15, he became the youngest member and soloist of the Toronto Symphony Band, which presented weekly broadcasts on CBC radio. During wartime, Cowell was a soloist with the Royal Canadian Navy Band and Victory Symphony Orchestra. Upon discharge from the Navy Band he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.
Cowell was a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 40 years. After he retired from that orchestra in 1991, he became a principal trumpet with the Toronto Philharmonia for 10 years. He was also a featured soloist with the Hannaford Street Silver Band, which included some of Toronto’s finest brass and percussion players. He even had the opportunity to substitute for Doc Severinsen when Doc cancelled a solo performance with the Hamilton Philharmonic at the last minute.
Cowell is also an accomplished songwriter and composer who has had more than 100 of his songs recorded by musicians like Floyd Cramer and Al Hirt (“Strawberry Jam”). Two of them—“Walk Hand in Hand” (1956) and “Our Winter Love” (1963)—became number one hits. His credits also include a number of symphonic pops compositions. Two composing highlights came in 1984 when he was commissioned to compose both a special fanfare for Governor General Jeanne Sauve, as well as fanfare for Her Majesty the Queen at the opening of the Metro Convention Centre (Toronto).
Cowell was honoured by many Toronto professional musicians at his 90th birthday celebration this year and he has received Local 149’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Though semi-retired, he continues to perform occasionally. In February, he was a featured soloist with the Hannaford Youth Band.