The only concert hall in Toronto that matters
Massey Hall has seen it all since it opened 120 years ago this month, from Winston Churchill to Bob Dylan
On June 14, 1894, Massey Hall opened its doors to the public as a concert hall of great acclaim. For the past 120 years, it has hosted everything from wrestling to royalty to political leaders, in addition to the finest musicians in the world and a number of legendary concerts.
The hall was financed by Hart Massey, of farm equipment manufacturer Massey-Harris, and the project was a memorial to his son Charles Albert Massey.
The first concert in the then 3,500-seat Massey Music Hall was Handel’s Messiah performed by a 500-member choir.
Jazz has always had a home in Massey Hall. In 1946, for example, both Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould made their debuts. Gould was just 13 years old. And in 1953, one particular evening’s lineup included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. That night is now considered by many to be the greatest jazz concert ever. But, Massey Hall is far from an oversized jazz club. In 1965, Bob Dylan played before a sold-out crowd with the Band (Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko) backing him up.
The concert is notable because of the outrage Dylan caused when the band played the second half of the concert, gasp, electric. For shame!
In 1971, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter named Neil Young gave an incredible acoustic solo performance that was meant to be recorded for an album, but it wasn’t released until 2007 when it debuted at number one on the Canadian album charts. And he is just one of many artists who have recorded live albums at Massey Hall, including Rush, Matthew Good, Burton Cummings and Gordon Lightfoot.
In 2013, during the Luminato festival, Joni Mitchell celebrated her 70th birthday playing two shows with an incredible lineup of guests, including Rufus Wainwright, Herbie Hancock and Esperanza Spalding.
Last year, the Ontario government committed $8 million for the revitalization of Massey Hall, so it looks like the ‘grande dame’ on Victoria Street will continue to provide an invaluable service to the city for years to come.
Light and noise flooded through the original stained glass windows
(L-R) Some Massey Hall memorable moments include Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel and iconic Canadian musician Neil Young