If the fine and performing arts are to make a significant and meaningful contribution to society, there must be strong institutional support for education, development and support of the artists, and for the dissemination of their work. John Roberts, through his work in broadcasting, on boards of cultural organizations and committees, and as a university administrator, has provided creative leadership which has contributed to the development of institutions which Canadians today consider an integral part of Canadian life.
A Canadian citizen since 1961, John Roberts began his life in Canada in 1955 when he came to Winnipeg as a CBC music producer. Among Winnipeg musicians with whom he worked are Filmer Hubble, Peggie Sampson, Christine Mather, Leonard Isaacs and Robert Turner, the latter two of whom are Professors Emeriti of the University of Manitoba School of Music. He also notes that shortly after he arrived he met Winnipeg composer, pianist, and violinist Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté. At their first meeting, they discussed music, and she performed on the piano. He remembers that he was impressed by her profound interpretations of standard repertoire and intrigued by her own music. Shortly thereafter, he met her husband Dr. Ferdinand Eckhard. John Roberts and the Eckhardts remained close colleagues and friends to the end of the Eckhardts' lives.
John Roberts was associated with the CBC for more than 30 years. Following his two years in Winnipeg, he became successively Program Organizer for CBC radio in Toronto, Supervisor of Music, Head of Radio Music and Variety, and served two further terms as a Special Advisor for Music and Arts Development and as a Senior Advisor for Cultural Development. One of the pioneers of FM broadcasting, he personally programmed 50% of the entire FM schedule with music and the other arts in the early years. Among his achievements, he developed and supervised CBC Festivals which provided exposure to Canadian performers and composers in cities across Canada and established an extensive on-going program of commissions for Canadian composers. He established the CBC talent competitions which have, over a period of many years, discovered outstanding young Canadian artists and launched important performers and composers on major careers. He pioneered radio documentaries on music subjects in the 1960's. The CBC became an international leader in the field with some of the early commissions of documentaries from Glenn Gould and others.
Another vital outlet for the distribution of Canadian music is the recording medium. Recognizing this, John Roberts, during his term as Head of CBC Radio Music and Variety, made the CBC a major producer of serious music recordings in Canada through his establishment of the recording division and the Canadian Collection which sold recordings through mail order. While serving as Director General of the Canadian Music Centre, he established the Centredisc label which quickly became a primary vehicle for the recording of Canadian Music, while during his eight years as Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Calgary, he was responsible for yet another new label - Unical Records.
During his various careers, Roberts has been an active member of nearly fifty arts and culture boards and key committees at home and abroad. In Canada, Roberts was President of the Canadian Music Council and Les Jeunesses Musicales du Canada, and is the Founding President of The Glenn Gould Foundation which established the highly prestigious $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize in the area of music and communications. He is also past president of the Canadian Association of Fine Arts Deans. His expertise has been utilized on the international level to chair the organization of several international comtemporary music festivals and to act as an advisor on broadcasting and communications development in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
John Roberts is now an Adjunct Professor in the Music Department of the University of Calgary. In the area of Scholarship, he enjoys a distinguished record as a lecturer and published writer in Canada and Europe in the fields of music and communications in the electronic media as well as cultural policy. During 1995-96 he was the first Seagram Visiting Fellow in the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University.
In 1978 Roberts received the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal and in 1981 the Cross of Honour for Science and the Arts from Austria. Also in 1981 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 1992 he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Victoria. In 1996 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
John Roberts has set a lofty standard for those in the cultural sector of Canada and the world. His innovative and creative approach to broadcasting and cultural organizations resulted in an environment in which the important voice of Canadian creative and performing artists is heard not only by other Canadians, but by people over the world. It is for this that we thank him and honour him.