History of the CCMA: Laying the Foundation


The CCMA is to have had members in the past that had the foresight to document many of our key milestones. Mr. Jack Feeney (the first Executive Director and the 1988 builder inductee into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame) was one such member. We kick-off our 40th year by storytelling with an excerpt below from his extensive documentation (please note that the CCMA was originally called the Academy of Country Music Entertainment (ACME). The association’s name change to the CCMA occurred in 1986). 
Pre-1976: Laying the Foundation 
The very first move to focus attention on Canada's country music industry on a national basis was made by RPM Magazine in September of 1973. At that time, RPM's publisher and editor, Walt Grealis, and the magazine's director of special products, Stan Klees, put together a conference that they called Big Country. The dates were Saturday, September 22 and Sunday, September 23, 1973 and all the events took place at the Holiday Inn in Don Valley, Toronto. There were speakers, panel discussions, artist showcases and industry hospitality suites. Incidentally, one of the speakers was Jo Walker, Executive Director of the CMA in Nashville. The RPM reception that followed events on Saturday gave artists and industry people a good chance to get to know one another.
In the RPM special edition that followed Big Country, Mr. Grealis reported that one registrant said "This meeting will go down as a milestone in the history of Canadian country”. Another quote: "I have a new respect for the country people who came here, country entertainers have a certain polish and professionalism that many in the pop field should copy.”
Walt Grealis finished his report with these words:  "A communication link from St. John's to Victoria has been established. What will come of all this is now in the hands of those who pioneered this project. Those who attended will become known as the originators of the new wave of country professionals."
RPM Magazine staged a second Big Country Conference on November 23 and 24, 1974 at the Inn on the Park, Toronto. It was similar in concept to the first conference with panel discussions, showcases and industry participation. The interest and enthusiasm shown by delegates convinced Mr. Grealis and Mr. Klees to make this an annual affair and so they began making plans for the future. They took two important steps during 1975 before the next conference was to take place.

  1. On June 21, Country Music Week was launched as a regular section of RPM Weekly to promote Canadian country music;
  2. On August 1, RPM announced the formation of CACMA – The Canadian Academy of Country Music Advancement – as a fundraiser to start an Academy.

This set the stage for the first Big Country meeting of delegates attending the third Big Country Conference held at the Inn on the Park, Toronto, September 25 and 26, 1975. At this time, Walt Grealis was elected Chairman of a steering committee to obtain a charter, establish rules for membership participation and annual awards, and to form an interim Board of Directors. Incidentally, there was another "first" that took place during the weekend – a country music awards banquet which was held in the famous Cafe de L'Auberge of the Inn on the Park. Two hundred and fifty people attended.

March 1976 – The Academy of Country Music Entertainment (ACME) Was Born 
Walt Grealis called his steering committee together in March 1976. The main purpose of the meeting was to elect officers and directors so that the Academy could become a chartered non-profit organization. In attendance were Harold Moon, retired General Manager of BMI Canada; Hank Smith, country artist; Gary Buck, President of Broadland Music; Larry Kunkel, Program Director, CFAC Calgary; Dave Johnson, Program Director, CFGM, Richmond Hill; Lonnie Salazar, President of Condor Records; Charlie Russell, Operations Manager, CJCJ, Woodstock, New Brunswick; and Stan Klees, Sammy-Jo, and Rob Mearns from Big Country Awards. Also in attendance was Kenneth M. Smookler of the law firm Smookler and Smookler.
The following were selected to form the executive as officers for a two-year term:
President – Hank Smith
Vice-President – Charlie Russell
Secretary/Treasurer – Gary Buck
The following were selected as directors for a one year term:
Larry Kunkel
Lonnie Salazar
Stan Klees
They agreed that the mandate of the Academy was "to promote the preservation, appreciation and development of those forms of entertainment known as country and country-oriented music". The group also voted to establish a new Academy to take over the CACMA membership to be called Academy of Country Music Entertainment (ACME).
September 1976 – First Membership Meeting
The first annual membership meeting of this new country music association, known as Academy of Country Music Entertainment (ACME) took place on September 26, 1976. It was held during RPM's Big Country weekend, September 25 and 26, at the Edmonton Plaza Hotel.
President Hank Smith gave the opening address in which he explained how the Association was started and gave details pertaining to the initial meeting of the founding group held in March of the same year.  During the meeting, Walter Grealis presented a $3000.00 cheque to ACME which was the amount raised by the Canadian Academy of Country Music Advancement through memberships.
Later in the meeting, Hank Smith explained that the Academy had started a Quarter Century Award to be given to members whose efforts and devotion to country music had been twenty-five years or more. The four recipients were Dick Damron, Joe Brown, Harold Moon and Orval Prophet. This was really the forerunner of the Hall of Honour. A presentation was also made to the Academy's "Number One Country Pal for 1976" – Walt Grealis. This was a unique award as no mention is made of it again. Finally, plans for various committees were drawn up and Big Country's awards were discussed. It was agreed that it would be better to wait and discuss this subject with Mr. Grealis and Mr. Klees when the Academy's membership had increased.
(Source: Continuing the Circle: A history of the Canadian Country Music Association: Jack Feeney - February 1996).
Thanks to Jack and all involved with documenting our rich history. We look forward to sharing more of these treasured files and stories with you over the coming months.

Please share your CCMA stories with us. Email thesource@ccma.org with your memories of the CCMA over the years.