Chinese Canadian Dance Band Celestial Gents 1938
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(Image credit: Anthony B. Chan)
According to the Origin of the Celestial Gents by Herby Chan, Al Price was the conductor of the group of musicians, called the Mandarin Orchestra, consisting of violins, Phillip Chan, Alice Gee, John Bong, saxophones, Ira Chan, Maurice Chan, Herbert Chan; brass, Mathew Bong, Roy Chan; guitar, Henry Gee; piano, Allan Chan; and drums, Paul Chan.
This group played at the Victoria Temple Hall and the Chinese United Church on Fisgard St. dating from 1937 to 1938. After Al Price left the band, we had an interim conductor.
The same group minus a trombone and three violins formed together as a jazz band under the leadership of Bill Johnston and called themselves the Celestial Gents.
Maurice Chan made the initial contact with Bill Johnston and with the help of brothers Ira and Allan, persuaded Bill to be the leader of the Celestial Gents. Bill was a talented saxophone and clarinet player and was featured at Terry’s Dine and Dance.
Betty Lim tried out with the band as a vocalist. Lloyd Chow was the band vocalist. John Yuen, bass player, joined the Celestial Gents and Limmy Lee played trombone with the band.
The Celestial Gents orchestra was remembered as the first Chinese Dance Band on this side of Heaven.
There were six Chan brothers in the band and were often called the Chan Orchestra.
Larry’s Note: Four of the Chan brothers went to war. Roy Chan was trained for Operation Oblivion and awarded the Military Medal, the highest honour in the field. John Bong and three of his siblings joined the Army. Limmy Lee became the first Chinese pharmacist to open a pharmacy in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
By Larry Wong Copyright 2012-2015 Chinese Canadian Historical Society.