For close to 40 years the sounds of "old-time" music meant Don Messer and the Islanders. Donald Charles Frederick Messer (b at Tweedside, NB 9 May 1909; d at Halifax 26 Mar 1973) started playing the fiddle at age 5, learning basic skills and traditional melodies from family and friends. By age 7, he was performing at local dances and social events. In 1929 he began his radio career with a show on CFBO, Saint John. In September 1939, he moved to Charlottetown, where he formed "The Islanders" for station CFCY. The personnel of the Islanders changed many times but there were several constants: bass player Julius "Duke" Nielsen; clarinetist and announcer Ray Simmons; drummer Warren MacRae; and pianist Waldo Munro. The singers were Marg Osburne, who joined in 1947, and Charlie Chamberlain, with Don since 1934.
In 1959 Don Messer's Jubilee started a 10-year run on CBC-TV. Its cancellation (1969) met with great protest and the show was syndicated from CHCH-TV, Hamilton, until Messer's death. Messer's TV and radio shows, his extensive personal appearances across the country, combined with more than 30 LPs, brought traditional fiddle and dance music into homes across Canada. His shows provided exposure for younger artists, including "Stompin' Tom" CONNORS, Fred McKenna, Vic Mullen, Graham Townsend and Catherine MCKINNON. Several collections of his music have been published. His papers and music are now kept in the Nova Scotia Public Archives, and one of his fiddles is on display in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Don Messer was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Honour in 1985 and with Chamberlain and Osburne into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1985 John Gray wrote the musical Don Messer's Jubilee. The 1971, NFB feature Don Messer, His Land and Music is available on video, as are highlights of his CBC-TV show. In 1992, the CBC broadcast a 22-week series taken from Don Messer's Jubilee and Singalong Jubilee. Don Messer's popularity endures.