How the Magnificent Singing Machine came to town

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Bill Irvine, who doubles as Master of Ceremonies and singer at The Magnificent Singing Machine, helped get the popular Community Living Tillsonburg fundraiser going 30 years ago.

"Back in the mid-80s I was on a tour of factories in Japan and saw what they call 'karaoke,'" said Irvine. "I had never seen it before. So a bunch of us bought one and brought them back."

Later that year he heard about a fundraiser in Peterborough using the machine. Businessmen were charged $100 to compete for a trophy using the machine and about $2,000 was raised for charity.

"The following summer Adele and John Armstrong and my wife (Rita) and I were up at the cottage using the one I had bought," said Irvine. "Adele said, 'You know, the Community Living is looking for a fundraiser, maybe we could do that sort of thing...' We talked about it and came up with the idea 'why don't we do a sing-a-thon, like a walk-a-thon.'"

Tillsonburg's first Singing Machine was organized in 1985, MC'd by Irvine.

"We raised about $10,000 that night. Nobody knew 'karaoke', so we thought we can't call it that. Why don't we call it the Magnificent Singing Machine? We had about 20 performers. Amongst them were Tom Heeney and Scott Campbell – both are judges now.

"I think we've had every mayor since '85 perform and take part in it. Cam McKnight, Irv Horton, John Armstrong, of course, with Ian Linton. They used to do parodies."

After a number of years, the Singing Machine fundraiser went on hiatus.

"About 2002 or thereabouts, but then it started up again in 2013 at the Community Centre," said Irvine. "So we've been having it ever since."

Not all of the performers are singers/musicians. Some are comedy acts.

"Urbain Demaiter, a retired dentist here in town, and Virginia Armstrong, did a Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers song last year and made some good fun of it."

This year they expect to have about 19 performers, he said.


The 2015 Magnificent Singing Machine will be held at the Lions Auditorium, Tillsonburg Community Centre. Social time begins at 6 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30, then entertainment. Tickets are $40 – call 519-842-9000 ext 224 to ask about ticket availability. The event is catered by Beres Catering.

Funds raised this year will go toward a 36-unit social housing project that Community Living Tillsonburg has started working on.

"It's a beautiful dinner, everything's served," said Irvine. "The show normally lasts until about 10:30 at night. We've got some very good talent... and some funny stuff as well."

With corporate sponsors, pledges collected by performers, and at the evening itself, the 'Sing-a-thon' has raised $133,795 to date. They'll add to that on Wednesday.

"It's just a group of people having a good time, getting up and singing, and having people make donations."


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