Samuel (Sam) Gesser was born in 1930 into a Polish-Jewish family in Montreal. He was drawn to the world of entertainment at an early age: at 13 he was cultural chairman of the intermediate division of the YMHA on Mount Royal Avenue.
In 1950, on a visit to Chicago, Gesser purchased a recording on the Folkways label by American bluesman Leadbelly. Folkways, run by New Yorker Moses Asch, sought out and recorded little known folk performers. Gesser was intrigued by the artists listed on the label and sensed a market in Canada. He became Folkways’ Canadian distributor, then producer. During the next 10 years, Gesser produced some 100 Folkways LPs by Canadian performers such as Hélène Baillargeon, Jean Carignan, Alan Mills and Marius Barbeau. He also founded The Record Centre of Montreal, the first record-lending library in the city. After a remarkable career of six decades, Sam Gesser passed away on April 1, 2008 at the age of 78.
During the 1960s, Gesser became one of Canada’s leading impresarios. He presented a dazzling assortment of stars, including Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Maureen Forrester, Glenn Gould, Monique Leyrac, Janis Joplin, Nana Mouskouri, Peter, Paul and Mary, Isaac Stern, the American Ballet Theatre, the New York Philharmonic, Japan’s Noh Theatre, and the Peking Opera Theatre. He served as artistic director of the Canada pavilions at both Expo 67 in Montreal and Expo 70 in Osaka.
Sam Gesser is a Member of the Order of Canada. He has been honoured by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian Institution. He is the first recipient of the RESONANCE award, presented by the Canadian Museum of Civilization for an outstanding lifetime achievement in promoting, preserving or performing music in Canada.