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Obituaries: Canadian Art Director Bart Schoales, TVO's Nerene Virgin & More

This week we also acknowledge the passing of filmmaker Norman Jewison, girl group pioneer Mary Weiss and more.

Nerene Virgin

Nerene Virgin

TVO

Bart Schoales, a Canadian art director, photographer, painter, and videographer and filmmaker who won two Juno Awards for his album designs and art direction, died on Jan. 18, at age 83.

Schoales' artwork and design have been featured on over 100 (mostly Canadian) album and CD covers, including 30 gold and 10 platinum-selling recordings. His twin Junos came via work on two Bruce Cockburn albums, 1974's Night Vision and 1976's Joy Will Find A Way.


He worked as an Art Director at True North Records in Toronto from 1970 to 1987, designing albums for such artists as Murray McLauchlan, Cockburn, Kensington Market and Barney Bentall.

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Other Canadian stars featuring Schoales' work on their albums included Anne Murray, Dan Hill, Colleen Peterson, Syrinx, The Demics, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Paul Janz, Véronique Béliveau, True Myth and John Mills-Cockell.

As a writer, director, and producer, Schoales also worked on music videos for McLauchlan, The Good Brothers, Joe Mavety and Eugene Martynec.

His freelance clients included Sony, EMI, CBS, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, CBC and TVO.

As well as a stint road managing Kensington Market, Schoales also managed and played in Toronto rock band Leather, and they occasionally opened Kensington Market shows.

From the '60s and into following decades, work by Schoales was exhibited at Expo 67 in Montreal, as part of a National Gallery of Canada touring show, and in galleries in Toronto and other cities, including the Museum Of Modern Art in New York and The Robert MacLaughlin Gallery in Ottawa.

In 1984, Schoales painted a huge exterior mural (three storeys high) on downtown Toronto music venue The Holiday Tavern as it was transformed into The Big Bop club.

A crucial figure in the music side of Schoales’ career was industry legend Bernie Finkelstein, founder of True North Records and manager of such artists as Bruce Cockburn and Kensington Market. In an interview with Billboard Canada, Finkelstein lamented the loss of “a very dear old friend. We used to talk at least once a week for many years, and I’m going to miss him."

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He recalls first meeting Schoales on Toronto’s Yorkville scene. “It was likely 1967, and Bart introduced himself to me at The Upper Crust Café there. I had just put together the Kensington Market band. One thing led to another and a little later, he said ‘I’d like to become a roadie for Kensington Market.’ I said ‘c'mon Bart, you’re an artist, why would you want to do that?’ He replied, ‘because rock n roll is going to be my new art form.’”

Schoales got the gig as road manager for that band, and revelled in the role. “I remember he came with us on the Kensington Market tour of the famous U.S. ballroom venues like The Fillmore,” says Finkelstein. “He loved all that. Bart was very well-connected in the art world back then, but he liked the rock 'n roll world.”

His connection with Finkelstein grew when the latter founded the True North label in 1970. “I got Bart to look after all the graphics for the label,” says Finkelstein. “He’d supervise the people he helped us hire or do them himself. Even on projects where he would not do the cover, he’d see the process through. I felt like he was the art designer for my whole label.”

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Schoales worked as Art Director at True North for 18 years, with that at times being a full time job. During that period he won his two Junos Awards for work on the two Bruce Cockburn album covers.

Finkelstein reminisces that "Bart was very close with all the artists we worked with. Everybody liked Bart, he was truly part of the True North family. Things changed a bit in the late ‘80s, but he remained a close friend of mine and had great input in many things. He was a real original and a lovely person.”

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An admirer of Schoales’ fine art work, Finkelstein is the proud owner of one of his large paintings.

Canadian music industry veteran Gary Muth offered this tribute to Billboard Canada: "I first met Bart Schoales when I hired him to create the photography and graphic art for Roger Rodier’s Upon Veleatur album for Columbia Records in 1972 and we remained friends ever since. We did several more album covers together in the ‘70s, but the one that stands out was for Tom Treumuth and Gary Furniss’ 1979 pioneering digitally recorded True Myth project; a true visual masterpiece that Bart conceived, executed and delivered in less than a week, perfectly fitting the music and the times. Remarkable.

"Working out of his Dundas West studio and gallery, Bart Schoales was the real thing, a true artist who lived and breathed creativity and made his living by interpreting how he perceived the world around him. He garnered the respect of many in the creative community that recognized his unique gifts."

Schoales also made a handful of music videos, including this one:

Norman Jewison, the Canadian filmmaker behind a long list of commercially successful and critically acclaimed movies, died on Jan. 20, at age 97.

Over his long and storied career, Jewison received seven Academy Award nominations, and in 1999 he received the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

As a director, he earned Oscar nominations for Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Moonstruck (1987), and In the Heat of the Night (1967), a Best Picture winner, and for producing The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) and A Soldier’s Story (1984).

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In its obituary, The Hollywood Reporter termed Jewison “the most distinguished film director in Canadian history” and noted that “he often used conventional genre plots to take on social injustice.”

Renowned for his skill in directing films in many different genres, Jewison helmed hit musicals Fiddler On The Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), and actually began his career directing musical specials on TV.

The Toronto-born Jewison studied piano and music theory at the Royal Conservatory, and acted in and helped stage shows and musical comedies in high school. In 1950, he moved to London and worked at the BBC for two years, before being hired by the CBC.

He wrote, directed and produced many popular Canadian TV specials and shows, and then he first made a mark in the U.S. in the early ‘60s by directing TV specials starring Harry Belafonte and Judy Garland.

Jewison then moved to Hollywood to begin his long and distinguished film career.

In 1978, he returned to Canada to live on a farm in Ontario, and in 1982 he was made an officer of the Order of Canada.

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In 1988, Jewison founded the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto, an institution that has had a profound and positive impact on this country’s film industry.

Read more on Norman Jewison here.

Nerene Virgin , a Canadian TV personality, educator, and actress best-known for the series Today's Special, died on Jan. 15, at age 77.

A Canadian Press obituary called her "a fixture of TVO, then known as TVOntario. Virgin was best known for her role on the children's series Today's Special, which ran from 1981 to 1987. She portrayed Jodie, the affable display designer at the department store where the show was set.

"Nerene achieved remarkable success, captivating audiences with her versatile performances that showcased both depth and authenticity," a statement from Ontario's public broadcaster said on Jan. 19."Nerene was a trailblazer in many rights, especially at a time when she was one of few Black women on Canadian television."

The series also aired in the United States, and was played in Canadian classrooms as an educational aid.

Virgin also made appearances on TVO's Polka Dot Door and CTV's The Littlest Hobo. She'd go on to work as a journalist, hosting CTV's Eye On Toronto in the late '80s and early '90s.

A Celebration of Life is scheduled for Jun. 15, 2024 at Stewart Memorial Church in Hamilton, at 1 p.m.

International

Paul Rambali, a British rock critic and writer, died on January 10. His age and cause of death have not been reported.

Through his work for New Musical Express during the '70s, he was one of the most prominent UK music journalists, and he then worked as one of the editors of The Face from 1980 until 1987.

Rambali later moved to France and became a published author, writing books on French baking, Brazil, and famed runner Abebe Bikila. He is the father of noted composer/producer Gustave Rudman Rambali.

Peter Schickele was a composer and humorist best known for his comedic musical compositions, released under his persona, P. D. Q. Bach.

An obituary on Legacy.com notes that "after graduating from the Juilliard School, Schickele spent time in the 1960s and early 1970s composing music for such folk musicians as Joan Baez – he arranged three albums for her in the late ‘60s – as well as scoring music for the science fiction cult classic Silent Running.

"His best-known work debuted in 1965 under a different name: P. D. Q. Bach, a fictional composer of Schickele’s invention, a supposed relation of the Bach family whose long-lost compositions were only now coming to light. The parody act proved to be a big hit among both mainstream and classical audiences alike. All told, Schickele released 17 albums as P. D. Q. Bach.

Also a serious composer, Schickele created over 100 works for orchestra and wrote musicals. His work on Oh! Calcutta! earned him a Grammy nomination in 1970, and he also hosted the educational radio program Schickele Mix on NPR from 1992 to 1999."

Gary Dean Smith, co-founder of music industry publication Pollstar and a concert promoter, died on Jan. 20, at age 77.

Along with with Gary Bongiovanni, Smith co-founded Pollstar in 1981, and served as its Chief Executive Officer at the time of the company’s sale to Oak View Group in 2017.

In its obituary,Pollstar noted that "Smith was also a concert promoter and artist management associate. He worked in that latter role with Average White Band, and later began promoting shows for James C. Pagni Productions in San Diego before moving on to Papa Productions, where he worked throughout the West with such artists as AWB, Tower of Power, The Guess Who, The Doors and many others.

"With Bongiovanni at Pollstar, he created a resource without which the modern concert industry would not be what it is today."

Smith was also a leading figure on the Concert Industry Consortium and at the annual CIC conference, now known as Pollstar Live! and the world's largest gathering of concert industry professionals.

Luis Vasquez, the Los Angeles-born darkwave musician, composer and producer better known as The Soft Moon, has died. His age and cause of death have not been reported.

His passing was confirmed on his Instagram page on Jan. 19.

An obituary in The Quietus notes that "Having spent time playing in various punk-rock bands through his teens, Vasquez founded his solo project The Soft Moon in 2009. He signed with the Brooklyn label Captured Tracks to put out his first single, "Breathe The Fire," in 2010. His self-titled debut album came out that same year.

"Two further albums followed for Captured Tracks in 2012 (Zeros) and 2015 (Deeper), before Vasquez signed with Sacred Bones to release the album Criminal in 2018. His final full-length record as The Soft Moon to date, Exister, was released in 2022."

Mary Weiss, lead singer of '60s girl group of The Shangri-Las, has died, at age 75. No cause of death has been reported. Her passing was confirmed by by Miriam Linna of Norton Records, who released Weiss’ only solo album in 2007.

“Mary was an icon, a hero, a heroine, to both young men and women of my generation and of all generations,” Linna said in a statement. The songs of The Shangri-Las were later covered by the likes of The New York Dolls, Aerosmith, and Twisted Sister, and influenced Debbie Harry and Amy Winehouse, amongst others.

The group's hits included the teen-death classic “Leader of the Pack,” “Great Big Kiss,” “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Heaven Only Knows”

Born and raised in Queens, New York City, Mary Weiss and her sister Betty attended the same high school as their future bandmates, twins Margie and Mary-Ann Ganser. The group's first release, “Simon Says.” came out on Kama Sutra in Dec. 1963, with Mary Weiss just 15 at the time.

In 1964, "Leader of the Pack" hit No. 1, and the group performed with the Beatles toured with The Rolling Stones, and appeared on hit TV music shows, Hullabaloo” and Shindig!. After a few more hits, The Shangri-Las split up in 1968. A Sire Records-backed reunion in 1976 did not bring any new recorded material forward, though the occasional tour followed.

Norton Records released Weiss’ only solo album, Dangerous Game, in 2007, which she toured to support.

Read the Billboard obituary here.

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Shaq’s Classic Song ‘You Can’t Stop the Reign’ Featuring Biggie Is Finally on Streaming Services
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Shaq’s Classic Song ‘You Can’t Stop the Reign’ Featuring Biggie Is Finally on Streaming Services

There's a more explicit Biggie verse in the vault, according to the NBA legend.

Shaq’s classic with Biggie is finally available on streaming services. The news was broken by FakeShoreDrive on X earlier this week, and the Hall of Fame big man confirmed the news Thursday afternoon (June 13).

The year is 1996 and Shaquille O’Neal and the Notorious B.I.G. are two of the biggest figures in their respective fields. Shaq was entering the last year of his deal with the Orlando Magic before he headed west to the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the 1995-1996 season. Biggie was getting ready to release his sophomore album, Life After Death, while in the throws of a beef with 2Pac. Big name-dropped the NBA player on the song “Gimme the Loot” off his debut album, Ready to Die, and the two had a mutual respect for each other ever since.

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