1990 Benny Award : Billy T. James MBE
Born as William James Te Wehi Taitoko in 1948, Billy T. James remains a national icon and key figure in the development of New Zealand comedy.
James joined the Maori Volcanics Showband in the 1970s and performed around the world. Going solo in Australia and then New Zealand saw him in great demand for his skits and impressions and his cabaret singing. He adopted the stage name Billy T. James because “it was something the Australians could pronounce”.
In 1980 he appeared in the variety show Radio Times, the success of which led to his own comedy sketch show in 1981, The Billy T. James Show. The same year he was named New Zealand Entertainer of the Year.
He made a notable appearance in the 1985 feature film Came a Hot Friday and provided voice-talent for the popular animated film Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tail. Also in 1985 Billy was named New Zealand Entertainer of the Decade. In 1986 he was awarded the MBE for services to entertainment.
In 1988 Billy T. James suffered a major heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass operation. The operation was not successful, and in November 1989 he received a heart transplant. He returned to the stage of the Aotea Centre in April 1990 for the variety special Billy T James, Alive and Gigging.
Billy T. James died of heart failure on 7 August 1991.
1991 Benny Award : Debbie Dorday
Debbie Dorday emigrated to New Zealand from the UK with her family as a two-year-old and they followed her father, a vicar, to his many postings around the country. She attended 17 schools and discovered an affinity for dancing. At each town she’d find a ballet school and it became clear she had talent. While the family was living in Ngaruawahia her parents decided to send the ten-year-old to the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in London. She was accepted into the Moulin Rouge company in Paris at the age of sixteen and spent a year touring with the troupe.
Debbie decided to return to New Zealand in the 1970s and performed at Auckland cabaret Annabelle’s. With help from investors and husband Alan, an old cinema in Parnell was refurbished and became Burgundy’s of Parnell – a popular cabaret club. The club had 17 backdrops and 46 staff. Debbie became well known for television commercials featuring the tagline “See you at Burgundy’s!”
By 1996 Debbie was exhausted from Burgundy’s and didn’t renew the lease. She now travels the country performing in variety shows.
1992 Benny Award : Carl Doy ONZM
Carl Doy ONZM is one of the most successful instrumentalists New Zealand has ever produced. Best known for his multi-platinum selling Piano by Candlelight series, Carl is also an in-demand producer and arranger.
In 1987, after a chance meeting with Murray Thom, ex-head of CBS records, he decided to record a piano album. This became the first of the best selling Piano By Candlelight albums, and entered the charts at #1. Eight more albums in the series were recorded over the next twelve years – the second establishing a record for most copies of a locally recorded album sold in this country. In 1992 the first three albums were licensed to Time Life Music in America. The resulting double-CD set became one of their best sellers, with more than one million copies sold in the USA alone. This gave Carl the distinction of being the only New Zealand solo artist to have a Platinum certified album in the USA.
Besides producing his own albums, Carl has also found time to arrange and produce many albums for some of Australasia’s most famous performers including Derek Metzger, Rob Guest, Tina Cross and Sir Howard Morrison. He was also arranger and musical director of Kiri Te Kanawa’s Platinum selling Maori Songs.
In more recent years Carl has arranged and produced Into The West and Montage for Yulia and also Elizabeth Marvelly’s debut album, all Platinum sellers in New Zealand. He was also appointed Musical Director for the NZ series of Dancing With The Stars in 2005, which ran as a top-rated show for five years.
Born in Birmingham, England, Rob Guest began his career as a singer in the pop charts of New Zealand. He starred for many years on TV shows such as Happen Inn and performed his hit records from NZ to Korea to Czechoslovakia, where he performed to a television audience of over 400 million. In 1978 Rob won the Korean Song Festival Best Performance trophy, was voted NZ’s Professional Performer of the Year, and recorded his own television special for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Rob worked in Las Vegas through the eighties, where he performed as MC at the Dunes Hotel, then at Harrah’s in Atlantic City, Reno and Lake Tahoe. In 1985 he won the coveted FIDOF Award in Los Angeles for his performance at the World Song Festival in the USA.
Rob moved to Australia when cast in the role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, for which he received a Green Room Award for Best Male Performer in a Leading Role. After touring Australia for three and a half years he was cast in the title role of The Phantom of the Opera, going on to play the role to great acclaim for a record 2,289 performances over seven years. n the midst of this run Rob was awarded Best New Zealand Theatrical Performer of the Year twice for Les Misérables and Phantom. In 1995 he travelled to London at the invitation of producer Cameron Mackintosh to appear in the 10th Anniversary Concert Performance of Les Misérables at the Royal Albert Hall. He hosted Man Oh Man, a dating show which aired on Australian and NZ television. In 1998/9 Rob reprised the role of Jean Valjean in the 10th Anniversary production. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1998.
Rob died following a stroke in 2008, aged 58. In 2009 ANZ Trustees established a memorial fund in his honour to help emerging young performers in musical theatre. The Rob Guest Endowment is awarded each year to an emerging musical theatre performer selected by a panel of industry experts.
1993 Benny Award : Mary Throll
Born in the ‘infamous Gorbals of Glasgow’, Mary Throll moved to New Zealand as a child in the 1920s. She started singing at age seven and became a vaudeville performer with a reputation for Scottish songs.
In 1954 she formed Fullers – the first entertainment agency in this country.
In 1964 she teamed up with Ray Brooks and a young Gray Bartlett to form the Fuller Trio, and successfully toured both New Zealand and Australia. With former husband George Carlsen she established Tiffany’s night club on Auckland’s North Shore.
Her autobiography The Scottish Nightingale was published in 2004. Mary passed away in June 2012, aged 89.
1994 Special Benny Award : Rena Owen
Rena Owen became one of New Zealand’s most successful and recognisable actors on the international film platform following her performance as Beth Heke in Once Were Warriors, where her performance earned her Best Actress Awards at the Montreal, Oporto, Seattle and San Diego Film Festivals. She also received Toastmaster’s Communicator of the Year Award and the Spirit Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Rena began her acting career in London in the mid 1980s, trained at the Actors Institute, and worked in British Theatre. Highlights include Voices from Prison for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Co-Existences for the Elephant Theatre and Outside In, which debuted at the Edinburgh Festival. She worked for two years with London based theatre company Clean Break, who produced the first play written by Rena, The River that Ran Away. Directed by Ann Mitchell and starring Rena as the lead, the work enjoyed a successful London run and was later published by NZ Playmarket in 1991.
Rena returned to NZ in 1989 and continued to work extensively in theatre and television. Highlights include Stephen Berkoff’s West; Kvetch for Ocean Productions; The Hungry City, which opened the Watershed Theatre; Whatungarongaro, which toured NZ and played at the Adelaide Festival in Australia and Daddy’s Girl, written by and starring Rena and Wi Kuki Kaa which enjoyed a critically acclaimed Wellington season. During this period she also directed stage plays, worked as a Dramaturgy for Playmarket and wrote and read short stories for Radio NZ. More recent theatre credits include starring in the classic NZ play Haruru Mai, directed by Colin McColl for the International Festival of the Arts, and directing Toa Fraser’s Bare for the AATC in San Francisco.
Television credits include NZ series Shark in the Park, Betty’s Bunch and Coverstory, which earned her a TVNZ Best Actress nomination. One hour TV dramas include The Call Up, The Visitation and Savage Play, a BBC/TVNZ mini series. Rena was a principal cast member of the Australian medical drama Medivac for two seasons. In 2000 she guest starred in British TV series D and in David Kelley’s Gideon’s Crossing. She also played a lead role in the NZ Aroha series Mataora. Rena has also worked as a voice over artist and fronted a documentary.
Her first feature film was a supporting role in the Kevin Costner/Kevin Reynolds film Rapa Nui in 1993. This was followed by the lead in Once Were Warriors, voted one of Time magazine’s top 10 films of1995. Other NZ feature films include Roimata, I’ll Make You Happy, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and When Love Comes.
During the last decade, Rena has extensively toured the International Film Festival circuit to promote various films, and also served on the Jury of the Montreal, Manila, Hawaii, Santa Barbara, and the USA Film Festivals. She has also served as a Consultant for IFP West and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and been on the Sundance Selection Panel.
Rena Owen was presented a Special Benny in 1994 at the Clear Entertainer of the Year Awards, presented for excellence and contribution to the entertainment industry.
1995 Benny Award : Guy Cater
Guy Cater has been performing professionally for over 25 years. He started his show business career as a children’s magic clown and then moved into MC and comedy work. He gained a Diploma of Clinical Hypnotherapy in 1982 but decided that that lifestyle was not for him and began using his hypnotic skills within his comedy act and then as a full show.
Guy performs extensively both in New Zealand and overseas. He regularly performs throughout the USA and Asia. He was the first hypnotist to perform in Singapore and the Cook Islands, and is the only New Zealand hypnotist to ever headline in Las Vegas.
2007 : Agnew Award for Excellence
1993 : The Rielly Comedy Award
1992 : Most Versatile Entertainer
1991 : Top Comedian Award
1987 : Professional Performer Award, The New Zealand Star Academy
1986 : VAC Scroll of Honour
1983 : Merit Award from Northern Entertainment Operators Association
1981 : Best Children’s Entertainer, NZ Magicians Convention
1996 Benny Award : Keith Leggett
Keith Leggett has had a show business career spanning six decades. He was born in South West London and grew up in Surrey. Keith got his start in show-business as a teenager, appearing in variety shows as ‘Feltham’s Star Juvenile Comedian’. In 1958 he joined the cast of the popular BBC television and touring Black and White Minstrel Show.
He moved to NZ in 1975 and worked as a floor manager in the early days of TV2. He also had a pivotal role in organising the 1990 Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies. In later years Keith was an event organiser for Auckland City Council and ran events such as The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, Pacifica and the Chinese Lantern Festival.
1997 Benny Award : Paul Bennett
Paul Bennett was born in 1942 and moved to Australia as a teenager. He became interested in music and formed a duo with Aboriginal singer Garth Terate. He was later a member of The Maui Troubadors, featuring lead vocalist Prince Tui Teka. The Maui Troubadors toured Australia and New Zealand, and Paul stayed on in New Zealand. In the 1980s he worked as resident singer and musician in a Queenstown resort. In 1992 he received the Shure Golden Microphone Award for professionalism.
1998 Benny Award : Dame Malvina Major ONZ GNZM DBE
Dame Malvina Major ONZ GNZM DBE was born in Hamilton. After winning the New Zealand Mobil Song Quest and the Melbourne Sun Aria, she went to London to study at the London Opera Centre. Her international opera career has included twenty eight major operatic roles, extensive oratorio and concert repertoire and a discography of commercial recordings.
She has performed in Mexico City, Brasilia, Buenos Aries and Santiago, Salt Lake City, London, Saltzburg and Brussels. Career highlights include performing for the King and Queen of Belgium in Jordan for the Queen Noor Festival, in Japan where she met the Empress of Japan, and at New Zealand Embassy concerts in Washington, Paris, London, The Hague, and Brussels. She has performed for both the summer and winter Salzburg festivals, the Campden Town Festival and at Covent Garden where she replaced Dame Joan Sutherland in Die Fledermaus.
Her services to opera and the community were acknowledged in 1991 with a DBE (Dame of the British Empire). In the same year she was the New Zealander of the Year. In 1992 she was named New Zealand Entertainer of the Year. She was included in the 2008 New Year Honours with the title Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit – the highest rank in the New Zealand Order of Merit.
In 2012 she was appointed to the Order of New Zealand.
1999 Benny Award : Gerry Merito
Gerry Merito was born in Whatakane in 1938. He was brought up on the family dairy farm and taught himself to read and to play the guitar at Cook Hospital in Gisborne, where he spent two years receiving treatment for osteomyelitis, a bone disease that left one leg shorter than the other.
His big break came in a 1950s talent contest where he was up against the hot favourites – Howard Morrison and his sisters. The teenage Merito was so shy that he played his guitar boogie from behind the curtain. He won the competition and Morrison enlisted him as a founding member of his quartet. Gerry was later to pen the endearing hits “The Battle of Waikato” and “My Old Man’s an All-Black”.
Auckland entrepreneur and promoter Benny Levin signed the Howard Morrison Quartet for a recording contract and organised a national tour in 1959. There was another hugely popular 19-week summertime spectacular tour in 1960 that ended with a 20,000 strong crowd at Auckland’s Western Springs. Merito said that the group’s split in 1964 was partly caused by contract problems and by the fact that popular music was changing.
In 2006 he toured with Sir Howard and Dame Malvina Major in the popular A Knight with a Dame show which staged 22 concerts nationwide. There were also gigs for a Maori Battalion reunion and a 25-year reunion of Maori musicians on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Gerry passed away in January 2009.
2000 Benny Award : Doug Aston
Born in England in 1920, Doug Aston was best known for his comic routines with Marcus Craig (aka Diamond Lil) and John Clarke (Fred Dagg) at Auckland’s Ace of Clubs through the 1970s and 1980s. Aston was an actor, comedian and scriptwriter.
He had roles in Goodbye Pork Pie (1981), children’s television series Terry and the Gunrunners (1985) and an iconic role as the Kentucky Fried Chicken Man in Never Say Die (1988). Doug also appeared in more than twenty radio plays and made numerous cameo appearances in television shows. He appeared in a supporting role in the first season of The Billy T. James Show. In 1981 he appeared in a Royal Variety Show with Billy T. James and Laurie Dee.
Doug passed away in July 2011.
2001 Benny Award : Gray Bartlett MBE
Guitarist, musical director, composer, producer and concert promoter, Gray Bartlett has been picking his way to success for over thirty-five years. Through thirty albums and twenty singles Gray has sold well in excess of a million units of his music. Born in Auckland in 1942, Gray’s first musical experience was at age 15 after leaving Auckland Grammar School. One of his brothers taught him to play the guitar and after answering a newspaper advertisement, he joined a band called The Phantoms. They performed at local dances and came runner-up in a radio competition called ‘Have A Shot’.
Gray was offered a chance to record by Zodiac Records in 1961, the result was his first single, “Last Stage West”. He toured the country with well known international artists of the day including Vera Lynn, Tom Jones and Herman’s Hermits. He also performed shows in Tokyo and in 1965 released the single “La Playa” which made the charts in both NZ and Japan (where it reached #2 and sold 410,000 copies). In 1968 he joined Rolf Harris as a musician/guest artist touring NZ and Australia. This liaison led to a seven-year working relationship, Gray moved to England and performed with Rolf at such prestigious nightspots as The Talk of the Town.
Gray was awarded an MBE in the 1987 Queen’s New Years Honours list for his services to entertainment. In recent times he has managed the careers of popular artists such as Hayley Westenra, Yulia and Elizabeth Marvelly.
2002 Benny Award : Tom Sharplin
Tom Sharplin is regarded as one of the most authentic rockers of his time. Born in Auckland but raised in Tauranga, he joined his first band (The Arms & Legs) shortly after leaving school.
Tom released five singles in the seventies. In 1974 he formed Tom Sharplin & Graffiti featuring Ritchie Pickett on keyboards and Glenn White on guitar. They toured the country developing a rock’n’roll revival act second to none. He formed Tom Sharplin and The Cadillacs and together they released two albums. The Cadillacs won the Band of the Year Award in 1980.
Tom toured New Zealand in 2006 as part of the Best Of The Best tour alongside Johnny Devlin, Ray Columbus, Sharon O’Neil, Larry Morris and Shane. He has performed in Singapore, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the country music capital of the world – Nashville, Tennessee.
He remains one of New Zealand’s most energetic and professional rock icons.
2003 Benny Award : Jim Joll
Jim Joll is a consummate professional variety performer. His many talents include singing, playing the guitar, flute, keyboards and penny whistle. He is a skilled comedian, compere and variety show producer.
Jim’s versatility has ensured an active showbusiness career – he was a resident singer on television’s The Country Touch, a fixture playing rock and disco at the likes of The Intercontinental Hotel and Aladdin’s Nightclub, and in 1994 became grand pianist at The Carlton.
As Active Talent Management, Jim has been producing comedy, variety and music shows for more than a decade. He regularly tours New Zealand with the popular Wheeltappers And Shunters Variety Show.
Razzle Dazzle is Jim’s latest show with Debbie Dorday. It includes over fifty costume changes and brings the glamour of Las Vegas to venues throughout the country.
2010 : Top Variety Show for Razzle Dazzle
2008 : Agnew Excellence Award
1997-98 : Top Instrumentalist
1996: VAC Scroll of Honour
1993 : Shure Microphone Award
2004 Benny Award : Eldred Stebbing MNZM
Eldred Stebbing was born in 1921. After leaving school he worked for Radio Ltd on the radio production line. He later operated audio equipment for public events and ran Red Cross dances for visiting servicemen during World War II.
After the war Eldred established a recording studio and pressing plant, manufacturing 78s, 45s and eventually 12 inch records. In 1957 he started the Zodiac label and recorded the Howard Morrison Quartet, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Peter Posa, Allison Durbin, The Pleazers and other popular acts. “She’s A Mod” by Ray Columbus and the Invaders reached the top of the charts in both NZ and Australia.
In 1970 Stebbing Recording Centre opened in Auckland’s Herne Bay after two years of construction. The studio was used for many of the country’s best known jingles and commercial voice-overs, as well as iconic kiwi tracks like “Be Mine Tonight” and “Bliss” by Th’ Dudes.
In 1984 Eldred was presented the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Music Industry. In 2004 he received the title of MNZM in the New Year’s honours.
Eldred passed away in 2009. The legacy of Stebbing Recording Centre continues under the helm of his sons Robert and Vaughan.
2005 Benny Award : Elaine Bracey
Elaine Bracey was born in 1934 and spent her childhood in the Hokianga. She moved to Auckland as a teenager and attended Otahuhu College where she discovered a love for entertaining.
A true variety artist, Elaine was an accomplished actor, singer, comedian and also performed as Booboo the Clown. She received The Reilly Comedy Award in 1992 and a VAC Scroll of Honour in 2003.
She was a keen member of the Auckland Operatic Society, North Shore Operatic Society, South Auckland Theatre, Dolphin Theatre and Howick Little Theatre. She worked with the likes of Chic Littlewood, Marcus Craig aka Diamond Lil and Jon Zealando and regularly performed for the elderly.
Elaine was VAC President 1991-1993 and Friendship Officer 2004-2007. She passed away in November 2007.
2006 Benny Award : Alan Watson QSM
Alan Watson has an international reputation as New Zealand’s most-well known and awarded magician.
In 1987 Alan was invited to perform at Hollywood’s famous Magic Castle. He was so well received that he was invited back and has now performed more than one hundred times at this prestigious venue. With his typical marketing flair, Alan also promoted New Zealand and its products as part of his close-up routine.
For five years Alan was the resident close-up magician at the renowned Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant where he performed for an incredible 1,423 nights. In 1995 the legendary Magic Circle in England presented Alan with their highest degree – Member of The Inner Magic Circle with Gold Star. One year later, Alan was chosen to represent close-up magic on The Great Kiwi Magic Show on TV3.
Alan and wife Michele were recognized internationally by the J. Marberger Stuart Foundation who presented them with the 2002 DRAGON Award before an audience of more than 1,400 magicians in New York. The DRAGON Award is presented in recognition of outstanding teamwork in the art of magic, and is the highest international award that has ever been presented to a New Zealand magician.
Alan Watson has always believed in giving back to the magical community and has a deep passion to promote New Zealand and New Zealand magicians. He is a past-President of the New Zealand Society of Magicians and Ring 160 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He co-founded the MagicNZ electronic bulletin board in the early 1990s, introducing New Zealand magicians to the Internet. Alan is probably best-known within the international magic community for his weekly news e-zine, read each week by over 16,000 magicians in more than 78 countries.
In the 2015 New Year’s Royal Honours list Alan received The Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) for services as a magician.
2015 : Queen’s Service Medal
2006 : Grand Master of Magic Award
2003 : Agnew Excellence Award
2002 : DRAGON Award
1999 : VAC Scroll of Honour
1997 : Shure Microphone Award
2007 Benny Award : Ray Woolf MNZM QSM
Ray Woolf is one of New Zealand’s most well known entertainers. Playing in bands from the age of thirteen, he went on to a short stint at a London singing school where he met future singing star Helen Shapiro. The Woolf family immigrated to New Zealand from England soon after, but the connection proved fortuitous – Woolf got the chance to support Shapiro when she toured down under.
Ray co-hosted the television chat show Two On One and in 1979 he got his own singing and talk show, The Ray Woolf Show. His huge list of television credits include appearances on Xena: Warrior Princess, Young Hercules, Marlin Bay, Street Legal, The Ray Woolf Show, Starquest, Those were the Days, Play it by Ear, In the Groove, The Strip, Shortland Street, Interrogation and Orange Roughies. He appeared in commercials in the 1980s as the face of Bic Lighters.
His theatre performances include West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The New Rocky Horror Show, Music Man, A Slice of Saturday Night, Blood Brothers and The King and I.
Ray was awarded Entertainer of the Year in 1975, Best TV Light Entertainer awards 1977-1980, the Golden Microphone for professionalism in 1978 and the Benny Award in 2007. He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2008 and received the Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) for services to entertainment in 2009.
2008 Benny Award : Suzanne Lynch MNZM
Suzanne Lynch was discovered by New Zealand guitarist Peter Posa. Along with sister Judy she established a name in New Zealand as half of the singing duo The Chicks. She was a regular on TVNZ’s C’mon and Happen Inn and was voted Entertainer of the Year in 1971.
Suzanne was offered the opportunity to fly to London and perform with Val Doonican. She worked as a session musician and performed at the Royal Festival Hall with Neil Sedaka’s band. Suzanne worked with Cat Stevens on two world tours and session work, including a solo line on “Oh Very Young”. Other sessions included work with Ringo Starr, Art Garfunkel and Chris de Burgh.
Suzanne has acted as vocal coach for three series of NZ Idol and two series of Stars In Their Eyes.
2008 : VAC Top Female Artist Award
2008 : Rock-Ons Award
2001 : MNZM
1972 : APRA Golden Disc
1971 : NEBOA Entertainer of the Year
2009 Benny Award : Eddie Low MNZM
Eddie Low was born totally blind in 1945 and spent much of his childhood at the Blind Institute in Auckland. While there he developed his musical talent, becoming a member of the institute band and winning a number of talent quests. When Eddie was twelve he underwent a series of operations which gained him partial sight in his left eye.
For a brief time in the early sixties Eddie joined the Sundowners. He was also a member of the Truetones before joining the Quin Tikis showband.
In 1970 Eddie released studio versions of some of the tracks he had performed on tour. Successful singles and albums followed and he became known as ‘The Voice In A Million’.
Eddie’s reputation was also growing overseas and in October 1972 he was invited by the Country Music Association of America to take part in the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He also toured Canada.
In the late seventies Eddie moved to Australia and became a fixture on the club scene. Returning to New Zealand Eddie has remained a popular concert draw and has also toured with a popular Roy Orbison tribute show.
2010 Benny Award : Gary Daverne ONZM
Gary Daverne ONZM is an internationally acclaimed, honoured and successful New Zealand musical arranger, composer, conductor, director and producer.
He started his musical career in brass bands as a euphonium player, later changing to clarinet, playing in symphony orchestras, jazz combos and top New Zealand rock bands during the 1960s. Gary began playing the piano seriously when he was twenty-one, becoming a top jazz and rock/pop pianist. He also doubled on alto and tenor saxophones with the clarinet.
Gary held the position of Musical Director/Conductor of the Auckland Symphony Orchestra from its formation in 1975 until 2010, when he was appointed Director of Music Emeritus.
As a composer, Gary has written works for symphony orchestra, accordion, children’s songs and musicals, and over 500 television and radio advertising jingles and film soundtracks.
Gary has conducted many major orchestras including London’s Royal Philharmonic, the Shanghai Symphony, the Taiwan Symphony, the Moravian Philharmonic-Czech Republic; conducted symphony concerts in Jakarta, Indonesia and the National Symphony Orchestra of Malaysia, the Turkish State Orchestras of Istanbul, Bursa and Adana, conducting with them many of his own compositions.
He was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the 1996 Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his services to music. In 2000 he was presented a VAC Scroll of Honour. In 2005 the Rotary Foundation named him a Paul Harris Fellow.
Since his retirement from the Auckland Symphony directorship position, he has gone back to his ‘pop’ and ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ roots as a record producer, digitally re-mastering, mainly for internet re-release on his Viscount label, archive recordings that he produced in his earlier years, along with producing new recording projects. He is still actively involved as a guest conductor with orchestras and as a musical arranger and composer.
2011 Benny Award : Shane Hales
Shane Hales’ professional singing career started with fronting top Australian band The Pleazers. With a reputation of being ‘wild and uninhibited’, they drew huge crowds to their live appearances and toured Australia and New Zealand several times. Shane went solo, starred on top-rated NZ television shows C’mon ’68 and C’mon ’69, and became a household name.
In August 1969 Shane’s signature song “Saint Paul” entered the NZ pop charts. It went on to become a NZ #1 for six weeks and remains one of the biggest local hits of the sixties. Shane was presented with the Top Soloist Award and a Golden Disc.
Shane followed the success of “Saint Paul” with popular singles “Lady Samantha” and “Heya” and embarked on a tour of Europe. He was voted Best Newcomer in Billboard magazine and toured America’s Midwest.
During the 1970s Shane worked the cruiseship circuit. In the punk-era of the late 70s he formed two bands in London, Midnight Wolf and Killa Hz. Shane appeared at the famous UK venues such as the Speakeasy, Dingwalls and Camden Town’s Music Machine, where he suffered a fractured pelvis by accidentally falling head first from the eighteen foot high stage.
Shane returned to New Zealand in the 1980s and had a successful run in the title role of Jesus Christ Superstar. He worked as entertainment coordinator for the Royal Easter Show for seven years and joined the Breakfast Crew on Kool 93 FM.
In 1997 he received a Scroll of Honour from the VAC in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the entertainment industry. He received a star on the Walk of Fame at the Boulevard of Stars in 2010.
2012 Benny Award : Marian Burns
Born and raised in Auckland, Marian Burns is internationally recognised for her charismatic fiddle-playing. She started playing the violin when she was six years old and played in many orchestras throughout 1977-1992.
Since discovering country fiddling, Marian has enjoyed touring New Zealand and working with amazing artists—Eddie Low, Gray Bartlett, Brendan Dugan, John Grenelle, Dennis Marsh, Kevin Greaves, Chet O’Connell, Chris Powley, Michael Fix and Tami Neilson to name just a few. Three Spring Fever Road Show tours with promoter Ben McDonald and two national tours with Operatunity have widened her audience and taken her over the length of the country.
Marian has been well-received on stage at the New Zealand Gold Guitar Festivals in Gore, the Caroline Bay Festivals in Timaru, the Norfolk Island/Bay of Islands Country Music Festivals, and she is also a well-known name at Tamworth Country Music Festival in New South Wales, Australia.
In 2009 Marian had her first acting role in a New Zealand film—The China Cup. Her original music was also accepted for the soundtrack, and she says that playing fiddle on the big screen was an incredible experience.
Career highlights to date include opening for Ricky Skaggs and Dr. John in the Auckland Town Hall, playing with Chieftans in the Aotea Centre, and sharing a stage with The Topp Twins.
A qualified primary school teacher, Marian is the music specialist at Marina View School in Auckland, teaching Year One to Eight students. This is when she’s not conducting massed choirs of five hundred children, or teaching private pupils from home.
Universally accepted as a New Zealand music legend, introduced by former Prime Minister Helen Clark as a “true kiwi music icon”, Larry Morris has had a forty-five year singing career which has helped shape music in this country.
Larry began singing professionally aged seventeen, topping the charts with Larry’s Rebels, pictured below. The band had eleven consecutive hit records, more than any other act of that era. Hits included “This Empty Place”, “Long Ago Far Away”, “I Feel Good”, “Everybody’s Girl”, “Do What You Gotta Do”, “It’s Not True”, “Painter Man”, “Moreen” and “Let’s Think Of Something”.
In 1978 Larry put together another great NZ band – Shotgun. Two hit singles were produced : “A Taste Of The Devil” and “Rain” (a remake of the Uriah Heep song written by bass player Gary Thain). Unfortunately Shotgun never recorded a full album, although individual songs were recorded at Mascot Studios.
In 1981 Larry formed the first Larry Morris Band and became resident at Auckland’s Foundry Night Club – packing the place for almost two years. He has toured Australia, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Europe, wowing crowds in many famous venues. He has toured with and supported some of the all-time greats of music including Roy Orbison, David Bowie, Tom Jones, Jimmy Page, The Who, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fleetwood Mac, The Yardbirds, Max Merrit & The Meteors, Herman’s Hermits, The Small Faces, America, Olivia Newton-John, John Farnham, Manfred Mann and many more.
Bruce Morley summed it up in Musician magazine : “There’s rock – and there’s rock ‘n’ roll, an attitude to a song and to life. Larry is and always has been a rock ‘n’ roller – and like all the other greats, he’s also a great romantic. When you hear Larry Morris backed by some of New Zealand’s hottest musicians, you’re hearing the past, the present and the future of New Zealand rock ‘n’ roll music.”
Career highlights include :
APRA Silver Scroll Winner (Larry’s Rebels for Roger Skinner’s “Let’s Think Of Something”)
Royal Command Performer
Amnesty International Supreme Award Winner
Two-time Loxene Golden Disc Finalist
2008 VAC Scroll Of Honour
Arranged and Produced NZTEAMFET East Timor Tour (with Gabriel Karcagi)
Arranged and Produced Music for Saatchi and Saatchi Kiwiana Show (for Michael Mizrahi)
Arranged and Produced Music for Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Ball (for Michael Mizrahi)
Tina Cross is without question a New Zealand icon. Having been on the New Zealand music scene since 1975, she conquers every genre she tackles. Unashamedly admitting to being around forever, Tina has come a long way from early appearances on TVNZ’s Ready to Roll where she sung current popular hits of the day. Winning the 1979 Pacific Song Contest with “Nothing But Dreams”, Tina was catapulted into the limelight and a Kiwi star was born. It was then at the tender age of 20, New Zealand’s love affair with Tina Cross began and marks the start of her long and successful singing and entertaining career.
With singles making the charts in the early days, Tina maintained a high profile with numerous television appearances and singing on the concert and cabaret circuit throughout the years. Tina has performed throughout Asia, UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand appearing alongside stars such as Sammy Davis Jnr and Tom Jones. Tina is well known for starring roles in musical theatre such as Cats and Chicago, ensuring a long list of accolades that has seen her awarded Top Female Vocalist, an Australian MO, a Best Theatrical Performer Award and in 2007 the Order Of New Zealand Merit’ (ONZM), for her services to the music industry.
2015 Benny Award : Johnny Devlin MNZM
Johnny Devlin MNZM, born John Lockett Devlin in 1938, heard “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 and his life was changed forever.
In February 1957, aged 18, Devlin won his first talent quest as a rock ‘n’ roll performer. The following year he recorded “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and was launched as New Zealand’s first superstar. The single was snapped up by Auckland’s teens in an unprecedented frenzy and reached the top of the Lever Hit Parade. Two more recordings quickly followed and by the end of 1958 Devlin had sold 50,000 singles. Between November 1958 and May 1959 he released eight further singles, plus three EPs and an album, amassing total sales in excess of 200,000.
Live tours followed and New Zealand had never seen such a reaction. Headlines reported, “Girls fight over singer’s shirt” and from then on a piece of his shirt was every fan’s aim.
In March 1959 Devlin undertook his final tour of the country. The usual bedlam followed and behind the scenes things were falling apart.
Devlin moved to Australia and between 1959 and 1981 released a further 40 singles, ten EPs and three albums. He wrote the official song for the 1972 Commonwealth Games, “The Games are On”. He remained a regular performer on the club circuit.
In June 2015, aged 77, Devlin suffered a heart attack while onboard a P&O cruise ship. He was transferred to Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital in critical condition and received a triple bypass which saved his life. The story made international news headlines.
In 2007 Devlin won the Legacy Award for lifetime achievement at the New Zealand Music Awards.
In 2008 he was one of the inaugural inductees of the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.
He was inducted into the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2008 for services to entertainment.
In October 2015 he was presented the Benny Award from the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand, the highest honour available for a New Zealand variety entertainer.
2016 Benny Award : Suzanne Prentice OBE
Born in 1958, Suzanne Prentice’s entertainment career has spanned forty years.
At the age of twelve, she took to the stage in Invercargill playing to an auditorium packed with country music fans. Strumming a guitar, nearly as big as herself, with unbelievable poise and complete vocal control, Suzanne broke into “I’m Little But I’m Loud”, and brought the house down.
Two years later Suzanne released her first record and it was an immediate hit. The following year, at the Australasian Country Music awards she received the Gold Guitar Award for best female vocalist, aged only fourteen. She went on to receive the honour an unprecedented three times.
Her musical career has been phenomenal. Her albums are confirmed best sellers as soon as they are released, not only in New Zealand but also in Australia. Suzanne’s first Gospel album made history, when “One Day At A Time” made platinum status in two weeks and went on to achieve triple platinum status and secure her another Gold Guitar Award as Australasia’s top selling album of the year. Her album When I Dream achieved platinum status within ten days of release. In 1984 she was awarded New Zealand Entertainer of the Year.
Suzanne has recorded television specials both in New Zealand and Australia, performed before the Queen and Prince Philip at a Royal Variety Performance in Auckland, and realised a major ambition when she appeared at Wembley Stadium in The International Festival of Country Music. She has also appeared as a special guest on the Grand Old Opry, for which she received a standing ovation and demands for an encore performance.
Suzanne has toured extensively throughout Canada and Australia and has worked with some of the most famous names in the business including Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Roy Orbison and Emmylou Harris.
Today her repertoire is much wider than the country songs for which she is famous. Suzanne finds herself in great demand worldwide for concert and cabaret work. She stepped in to the lead role in the musical tribute to Patsy Cline, and learnt an incredible twenty songs in just three days.
In the 1995 Queen’s Birthday Honours she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to music.
She stood as a candidate for the 2010 mayoral elections in Invercargill.
On a more personal level, Suzanne transformed herself from weighing 80kg into a bronzed and buffed body sculptor, competing at the national bodybuilding championships in Christchurch at a weight of 45kg and against women half her age. She released a book, One Day at a Time, chronicling her pragmatic approach to weight loss and its effect on her life.