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Ethel Taylor, the voice of Martini Music

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Early evening is a pleasurable time for summer cottagers in Muskoka, Ont. The day’s heat has subsided and the mosquitoes aren’t yet out in full force. It’s the perfect moment to head down to the dock for a pre-dinner libation and canapés by the lake. And, if it happens to be a Sunday evening, from 6 to 8, one might also wish to bring along an old transistor radio and tune to 88.7 FM to catch Hunters Bay Radio’s weekly show, Martini Music.

The aptly named program is congenially hosted by the Toronto-born, Ethel Taylor, or “ET” as she playfully calls herself. It features the vintage sounds of, say, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Eydie Gormé.

“My husband, Sydney, and I used to go to the Palace Pier to dance and listen to the big bands,” ET has interjected between songs. “If you’re not enjoying the music I have chosen for you, then adjust your hearing aids!”

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How this funny, knowledgeable 94-year-old came to host Martini Music is a heymische story that includes ET’s talented daughter, Shauna Leigh Taylor, and son-in-law (Shauna’s husband), Jamie Oppenheimer – both of whom volunteer with the Huntsville-based, community-run station, Hunters Bay Radio (HBR).

Oppenheimer originally hails from Buffalo, N.Y. He’s a former real estate broker and under-the-radar songwriter who has composed over 150 songs. He hosts a Thursday-evening show on HBR called Lyrical Workers, highlighting music by local, Canadian, and international performers, mainly in the folk genre. Shauna Taylor is a virtuoso pianist and composer. She co-produces her mother’s and husband’s shows, and also volunteers as the radio station’s graphic designer and energetic social media specialist.

Speaking about the roots of their involvement with the station, the radio family credits ET’s departed husband, dentist Sydney Taylor. “When he was younger, Syd spent time at the cottage of his parents’ friends on Doe Lake, north of Huntsville,” ET said. “After we were married, we built a boat-access cottage nearby. In fact, I went into labour and almost gave birth to Shauna, there! That’s when I said to Syd that we had better find a place with road access!”

In the early 1960s, they built a second cottage not far away. Fast forward 40-odd years:  “Shauna and I had been living and working in downtown Toronto, since marrying in 1994,” Oppenheimer explains. “In the early 2000s, we decided to get away from the city.” On the site of ET and Sydney’s second cottage, they designed and oversaw the construction of a magnificent, red-oak-stained, round-log home – deserving of an article in a design magazine – and permanently moved up from Toronto in 2007.

Oppenheimer was the first in the family to volunteer with HBR. “In 2014, Christine Heron [a local singer/songwriter] invited me to appear on a show called Talent on The Bay,” he recalls. “It was the first time in 10 years that I had performed for the public. Not long after, Jeff Carter [HBR’s president and managing director] asked me if I would like to become involved with the station, and I soon began hosting Lyrical Workers.”

ET’s passion for music began when she was just a teen. She remembers walking along Toronto’s College Street, in what is now the city’s “Little Italy” neighbourhood, and popping into Sniderman’s , the original store that grew into the once-thriving, music-purveying chain, Sam The Record Man. There, she’d enter a booth to listen to records of her favourite crooners, including Dick Haymes and Vic Damone. A couple of decades later, during a trip to Las Vegas, ET got the opportunity to meet the latter singer. He became a close, family friend.

“Vic stayed over one Saturday night –  in fact he slept in our master bedroom. Sunday morning – after having some bagels, cream cheese, and lox – he said he had to go downtown. From outside the house, he heard Shauna at the living-room piano. He came back inside and asked, ‘What is that?’

“Shauna told him that she was playing one of her compositions. Vic asked if she had any lyrics for it. She said, ‘Not yet.’

“Well, right after Vic left, Shauna and I sat down and wrote the lyrics. Not long after, Shauna sent him the sheet music and words,” ET continues. “Then, suddenly, in fact right in the middle of our Passover seder, I got a phone call from Chicago. Vic was on the line. ‘Listen to this,’ he said. I listened and heard that he’d made a recording of the song that Shauna and I had written! It’s called, “Every Time I Look At You.” And it’s the theme song that I play at the start of my Martini Music show.”

ET’s eyes fill up with tears when she tells me how she came to host the program. “It all started with the actor, James Carroll. He had played Max on Wind at My Back, [the CBC Television show that aired from 1996 to 2001]. James had moved to Huntsville and was HBR’s program director and the host of many shows, including Martini Music. Through Jamie and Shauna, James and I got to meet and we really hit it off. However, by that time, he was in really bad shape. [Carroll died in 2016 from lung cancer.] But, before he went, he said to me, ‘You should inherit my show.’”

Each week, ET ends her program with a second song by Vic Damone before signing off with this (perhaps not quite) tongue-in-cheek line, “I’ll be back next week – that is, if I’m still alive.” Judging by her on-air enthusiasm, she’ll be here to stay for a long while yet.

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