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Sir Howard Morrison

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Full name:  Howard Leslie Morrison
Born:  August 18th, 1935
Died:  September 24th, 2009
Hometown:  Rotorua, New Zealand
Career began:  1955
First Record:  Po Kare Kare Ana (1959)
Labels:  Zodiac, La Gloria, Viking, Parlophone, Polydor, Arista, RCA
Awards:  OBE 1976, Knighthood 1990
Awards:  Benny Award 1970
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Website:   www.sergent.com.au/music/howardmorrison.html

  Award presented 2008

Howard was the second of seven children of Gertrude Harete "Kahu" Morrison and Temuera Leslie Morrison.  He is of Te Arawa, Scottish, Tainui, and Irish descent.  When 10, his father, a Maori Affairs community officer, was posted to the remote Urewera settlement of Ruatahuna.  Apart from having to learn Te Reo Maori to fit in to the Tuhoe community, Morrison remembered listening on the battery-operated radio on Wednesday nights to Selwyn Toogood playing the Lifebuoy Hit Parade, and learnt many of the songs by heart.  In his autobiography, Morrison said it gave him an appreciation for the sort of middle of the road popular songs the majority of people wanted to listen to.  A scholarship to Te Aute College took him to Hawke's Bay for three years, returning to Rotorua for his last year of school.  In early 1954 he moved back to Hastings to work, first as a storeman at an apple packing shed, then at the Whakatu freezing works.  It was during that year that he started to sing in public in a disciplined way.  The Whatarau family got him to join the church choir, then the Awapuni Concert Party, and then sisters Isobel and Virginia Whatarau asked him to replace Pineaha in their trio.  He remembered the Awapuni Concert Party as the first cultural group to mix contemporary music with traditional songs.  The first half would be poi and piupiu, and for the second half the backing guitarists would come out and do Guitar Boogie, after which the Clive Trio would perform, the sisters in ball gowns, Howard in suit and bow tie.

 

 


The Howard Morrison Quartet


 

 

The death of his father at the end of 1954 brought Morrison back to Rotorua, where he started singing with his older brother Laurie at their Waikite Rugby Club as the Ohinemutu Quartet.  He recruited Gerry Merito after hearing him play guitar at a family gathering, and others who participated at various times included cousins John and Terry Morrison, Wi Wharekura, Tai Eru, Gary Rangiihu and Chubby Hamiora.  In 1955 Morrison's group won a talent competition at the Rotorua soundshell with a medley of Rock Around The Clock, Blue Suede Shoes and Shake, Rattle And Roll.   That was enough to convince him to give up his job on brother Laurie's surveying chain and become a meter reader with the Tourist Department.  The switch to becoming full time professional musicians would take another five years, in part because there was no such career in New Zealand in the 1950s, and in part because some of the other members were developing the careers that eventually led to them leave the group.  Band members were also starting families - Howard married Kuia in 1957 and their first child Donna was born in 1958.

 

The Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre


Howard Morrison


... with Michael Jackson

 

Promoter Benny Levin first heard Morrison and his quartet at the Ritz Hall in Rotorua in Christmas 1956, and he started bringing them up to Auckland for one-off shows at venues including the Town Hall, introducing them to Eldred Stebbing of Zodiac Records.  It was Stebbing who suggested the band be called the Howard Morrison Quartet, recognising that even if the band broke up, Morrison could continue to be a performer.  Their first recordings were covers, but the one that took off was Hoki Mai done to the tune of Goldmine In The Sky - a song from Morrison's Awapuni Concert Party days.  When Benny Levin decided the time was right for a national tour, Morrison put the hard word on the band.  Laurie Morrison and Tai Eru dropped out, and Howard went on the road with Gerry Merito, Wi Wharekura and Stebbing protégé Eddie Howell.