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Canadian Heritage

Rick Wilkins


HERBERT RICHARD (RICK) WILKINS (tenor saxophone, arranger, composer, conductor) was born on February 1, 1937 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is widely recognized as one of the country's most accomplished saxophonists, and among the most consummate arrangers and conductors in the world. In 2003, he was awarded both the Order of Canada and the Queen's Jubilee Medal in recognition of his genius over more than five decades on the international music scene.

In the early years, he was a familiar talent jamming at Toronto's famous "House of Hambourg" and the "First Floor Club". He became one of the leading writers and arrangers for CBC-TV Variety, working with stars such as Tommy Ambrose, Juliette, and Wayne & Shuster. After Buddy Greco borrowed one of Rick's charts for a successful appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show", Greco invited Rick to write several arrangements for his big band 'book' and ultimately, asked Rick to conduct for him at the Copacabana in New York during the summer of 1962. While earning his living as an arranger in TV variety, Rick continued to exercise his saxophone jazz chops by playing with Rob McConnell and Ed Bickert at jazz venues including George's Spaghetti House.

He was invited to join Rob McConnell's "Boss Brass" in 1970, remaining with that band as a player and frequent writer for the remaining 30 years of the band's life. Around the same time, he partnered with Tommy Ambrose, Doug Riley, and Larry Trudel in the jingle business, also providing arrangements for Tommy's gospel radio and TV series "Celebration". His association with Tommy Ambrose still thrives today. He provided the string arrangement for Anne Murray's "Snowbird", the record which launched her career, and later "You Needed Me" which reached #1 on the billboard charts in 1978. From 1976-77 he worked in Los Angeles as Music Director on "The Jacksons" starring The Jackson Five. He returned to Canada to arrange and conduct Oscar Peterson's "Canadiana Suite" for CBC-TV, continuing a working relationship with Oscar which began in 1970 and lasted for more than 30 years of collaboration on recordings, television, and film projects.

Rick composed and conducted the music for many television documentaries and dramas for the CBC during the '80s, as well as contributing to the Twentieth Century Fox feature "The Changeling". In 1988, he was commissioned to compose and conduct the opening 13 minutes of the Calgary Olympic Games, and in 1989 was Music Director for the gala opening of Toronto's Skydome (CBC-TV). He scored and rescored the "Hockey Night in Canada" theme. He has arranged for Ian McDougall's appearances with The Victoria Symphony, and was commissioned by P.J. Perry to arrange a jazz evening for saxophone and symphony, premiered with P.J. and The Edmonton Symphony, and later conducted by Rick with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. In 2005 he wrote new symphonic charts for P.J. Perry and in 2006, he wrote two symphonic arrangements for John McDermott's appearance at the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts. He has written, arranged, and conducted for some of the best including Louie Bellson, Peggy Lee, George Shearing, Celine Dion, Oliver Jones, Ranee Lee, John McDermott, Renee Rosnes, Rob McConnell, Kenny Wheeler, and many others, collecting numerous awards and honours all along the way, Rick Wilkins continues to be one of the busiest and most prolific people in the entertainment industry.


2002 - Named a Member of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour given in this country, granted to Canadian citizens 'for outstanding achievement and service to the country or to humanity at large'

2005 - National Jazz Awards nominee in the 'Arranger of the Year' category

2006 – National Jazz Awards nominee in the ‘Arranger of the Year’ category

2007 – National Jazz Awards nominee in the ‘Arranger of the Year’ category

2008 - National Jazz Awards nominee in the ‘Arranger of the Year’ category