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Bill Langstroth, host of Jubilee Years. (CBC)
Bill Langstroth, host of Jubilee Years. (CBC)

Obituary

Bill Langstroth, a driving force in Canadian country music Add to ...

Ms. Murray and Mr. Langstroth became lovers in 1968, as Ms. Murray admits in her memoir All of Me, saying that when they began their affair, Mr. Langstroth was “still married [to his first wife, Shirley, and the father of two young children], almost 15 years my senior and also my boss.” But, she adds, “I was falling in love, fast, and powerless to do anything about it.”

They married on June 20, 1975, on Ms. Murray’s 30th birthday. They had two children together, William and Dawn and separated in the late 1990s. After their divorce, Ms. Murray and Mr. Langstroth remained friends.

William (Bill) Maynard Langstroth was born Nov. 5, 1930, in Montreal, the middle of three children of Cecil Langstroth, an engineer, and his wife, Louise (née Scribner). Both of his parents came from Hampton, N.B., where they returned every summer with their children.

After West Hill High School in Montreal, Bill Langstroth did a fine arts degree at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.

After a few jobs on local radio, he found a regular paycheque working on a variety show on CBC-TV in Halifax in 1954. Don Messer and his Islanders made a guest appearance and “it blew the switchboard right off the walls,” Mr. Langstroth recalled decades later. Don Messer’s Jubilee, which began as a regional show, moved to a network slot in 1959, with Mr. Langstroth in the control room calling the directorial shots.

He was philosophical about the Messer show’s appeal, especially the fiddle, which he related to “the sound of the sitar, bagpipes or the call of the muezzin from the minaret,” in a 1968 interview. “There is something to this business of vibrations that strikes a responsive chord.”

Despite those inspiring words, the show was abruptly cancelled the following year, creating outrage from coast to coast. Petitions were signed and questions were raised in the House of Commons.

Don Messer’s Jubilee and Singalong Jubilee marked a watershed in Mr. Langstroth’s career. He left Singalong in 1970, the year after the CBC cancelled the Messer show. For several years, he was Ms. Murray’s manager, but most of his restless energy was spent raising their two children while she was on the road building an international career.

“He was my greatest supporter in those early days,” Ms. Murray said in an interview. “He was the one who pushed me over the edge when I had to decide if I was going to continue teaching or get into the business,” she said. “He never doubted for a minute that I could do it. He was like that about everything.”

In the late 1980s, by then best known as a freelance photographer, he embarked on a new venture: croquet. He became the Canadian representative for the United States Croquet Association in 1987, and later the president of Croquet Canada. An inveterate optimist, he predicted that croquet would be as popular as curling and eventually become an Olympic sport. “It doesn’t take vision to see that,” he told The Toronto Star. “If you can keep growth going, damn near anything is possible.”

On the showbiz front, he rescued old tapes of both the Messer and Singalong shows in the early 1990s and hosted and produced a 22-episode series for the CBC called The Jubilee Years, reprising highlights from the classic shows.

Meanwhile, things were deteriorating at home. In a self-critical passage in her memoir, Ms. Murray writes that Mr. Langstroth “sacrificed a good career for me.... And although we had a housekeeper and a succession of nannies … Bill became precisely what I had once prophesied the husband of a touring performer would become – Mr. Anne Murray.”

By the time they separated, three months before their 23rd wedding anniversary, their daughter Dawn was battling anorexia nervosa, and Mr. Langstroth had signed himself into a rehab clinic.

Mr. Langstroth, who had given up smoking more than 20 years earlier, was equally determined when it came to drinking. He joined AA and remained sober for the rest of his life.

He also found love again, meeting his third wife, Frances, at a watercolour painting class in Maine. Among other things they shared, she too had a strong connection with Hampton, the New Brunswick town where he had spent boyhood summers. They were married in September, 2000.

Mr. Langstroth was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in the builder category in 2011.

This spring, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. After he went into hospital for chemotherapy, his heart destabilized and he developed congestive heart failure.

“My father was a wonderful man,” his elder son, Dave Langstroth, said in an interview. “His passing was kind and gentle. What more could we ask for?”

Bill Langstroth leaves his wife, four children, three stepchildren, many grandchildren and his extended family.

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