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London, Ont., band honoured by music award a half-century after its heyday | CBC News

Although it came as a surprise, Heather Stevens of London, Ont., says the announcement is long overdue.

Stevens, 78, is the widow of John Stevens, the once energetic frontman of the 1960s-era London Ont., band, Johnny and the Canadians. The band is one of a handful of artists and producers who’ve been inducted into the Forest City London Music Awards Hall of Fame this year.

“I’m still shaking,” Stevens told CBC Radio’s Afternoon Drive.

“I read it in the paper Saturday morning and I was just blown away. I shook all day. I cried. I’m just happy. Very, very happy for John.”

The November 01, 1965 edition of RPM Weekly, Canada’s music chart, shows ‘Million Tears’ (short for ‘A Million Tears Ago’) by Johnny and the Canadians at the #9 spot. (Library and Archives Canada)

Although the band only lasted a couple years, it scored a Top 10 hit on Canada’s RPM chart in 1965 with the song, ‘A MIllion Tears Ago.’ By 1967, The Canadians had disbanded but Stevens continued performing throughout his life until his death at the age of 69.

“He loved every minute of it,” Stevens said of her husband’s time with the band, which was managed by Saul Holiff, a Londoner who also managed country star, Johnny Cash. “And he never asked for anything in return. He just enjoyed doing what he did.”

Breaking barriers

As a Black man, John Stevens was likely the only Black frontman in southwestern Ontario’s rock scene in the 1960s. But Heather, who is white, said her late husband’s gregarious personality helped ease any racial tensions he may have faced.

“He really was welcomed,” she said. “We never had the prejudice thing. We never encountered that. We were very, very fortunate. But that’s John. Anybody that knew John – you didn’t hate him. You opened your arms to him.”

“He was probably the only black man in St. Thomas, to tell you the truth,” Stevens said of their early courtship in the late 1950s.

“But if John walked down the street, he just spoke to everyone. It didn’t matter. If he was alive today, the homeless people, he would be there speaking with them. That’s how John was. And you know, I’m very fortunate our six children were the same way, and are still same way.”

Heather and John Stevens in an undated photograph. The couple met at a teen dance in St. Thomas, Ont., in 1957 and remained together until John Stevens’ death in 2007. (Submitted by Heather Stevens)

John Stevens continued to perform until his death in 2007, following several heart attacks, a stroke and a cancer diagnosis.

The 2021 Forest City London Music Award Hall of Fame inductees also include violinist Lara St. John, folk producer and musician Paul Mills, rock band Plum Loco and the late country singer Earl Heywood. All inductees will be honoured during London Music Week, beginning June 6.

Afternoon Drive9:10Heather Stevens thrilled late husband Johnny Stevens & The Canadians to be honoured by Forest City London Music Hall of Fame

The 2021 Forest City London Music Hall of Fame is honouring Johnny Stevens & The Canadians, perhaps the only rock band from the region to feature a Black man at its helm in the 1960s. Afternoon Drive’s Chris dela Torre speaks with singer Johnny Stevens’ widow Heather Stevens about what the honour means to her and her family. 9:10

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