This Week in JPL History: “Ladies and Gentleman: Leonard Cohen”

This photo is from Sam Gesser’s 50th birthday party, and is a part of the JPL-A’s Sam Gesser Fonds

On May 7th, the JPL hosted a live radio interview with Sam Gesser and Stanley Asher. The interview followed a screening of Gesser`s documentary Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. Leonard Cohen. Gesser was a well-known figure in Montreal who played an integral role in the development and distribution of Canadian folk music and culture. Growing up in Montreal, Gesser claimed to have learnt much about the entertainment industry by working at His Majesty`s Theatre.

In the 1940’s Gesser became the Canadian representative of the Folksways record label, where he was responsible for discovering Canadian folk talent. Over the next 14 years Gesser produced over 100 original Canadian folk records. After Folkways, he went on to work with other labels. He also wrote scripts for programs about folk music for the CBC and CFCF. In 1950 Gesser began presenting live performances of both established and unknown artists, music, and dance. Gesser would introduce Canadian and international talent to many decades of audiences.

In addition to shows in Montreal, Gesser also arranged performances of such notable acts as Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennet, and Nana Mouskouri throughout Western Canada, regions of the US, the Maritimes, and small town Quebec. He was a booking officer for Expo 67 and was assigned to the Canadian pavilion for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan.

Gesser helped to found Les Feux-Follets, a music and dance troupe that put Canadian heritage and artistry on centre stage. He was also a playwright, penning “Fineman’s Dictionary” and “Dancing to Beethoven” at the time of his death he was working on a third. Gesser received the Order of Canada in 1993 for “contributing to Canada’s cultural fabric” along with other honours. He passed away in 2008.

In 2006 Gesser was the honouree at the JPL’s annual Gala “Isn’t This a Time.” The JPL-Archives holds the Sam Gesser Fonds which was donated by Gesser himself. It consists of textual material, photographs, and audiovisual material which span his 50-plus year career.

Adapted from the biographical note for the Sam Gesser Fonds which can be found through the CJHN.

The This Week in Jewish Public Library History blog series was made possible through the generous support of the Peter and Ellen Jacobs Virtual Archives Fund.

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