"Chairman of the Board" Colin Hunter rehearses for Friday's concert with pianist Joe Sealy. (RICK EGLINTON / TORONTO STAR) | ORDER THIS PHOTO
By ASHANTE INFANTRY, Entertainment Reporter
Sun., Oct. 24, 2010
Frank Sinatra was the original Chairman of the Board crooner, but Colin Hunter serves the moniker well.
That’s his title at Sunwing Travel Group, the Canadian company he founded in 2002, and that now encompasses an airline and all-inclusive vacation package firm on track to generate a billion dollars in annual sales next year.
And he’s imbued with a velvety voice suited to the laidback harmonies that Frank popularized. However, it took employee jest in 2005 to make him expose his private passion.
“We were starting the airline and the boys on the management team were saying, ‘Maybe Colin can do “Come Fly With Me” (as a marketing jingle),’” Hunter recalled in an interview with the Star. “And they were kind of giggling about it. So I said, ‘I’ll show you.’”
Hunter, known to do a song or two with a cruise ship or hotel band during his travels, and karaoke master at home, engaged veteran Toronto bandleader Anthony Terpstra and his 16-piece Starlight Orchestra, who said it didn’t make sense to record just one tune at the three-hour minimum studio session.
“So we ended up doing 11 songs,” Hunter said. “We never used ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ (for commercials) in the end, because we couldn’t get permission from the song’s owners. Then Royal Bank started using it, so we gave up that idea and the CD just went on the airplane for passengers. Then people said, ‘We can’t play that same CD all the time; make another one.’ Now I’m on the treadmill: every six months I have to do another one for the airplane.”
That’s right, the in-flight entertainment systems of Sunwing’s 19 jets, ferrying passengers to winter escapes such as Mexico, Cuba and Jamaica, from 30 Canadian cities, feature a music channel dedicated to its chairman.
“We used to sell the CDs on board, but we took them off the airplanes, because of the weight when the fuel crisis occurred; now passengers can just write in and ask for it and we’ll mail it to them,” said Hunter of his five-album catalogue also available at select record stores and iTunes.
Since his eldest son Stephen took over as Sunwing’s president and CEO in January, Hunter, 71, has begun to perform more publicly. He helms “A Tribute to the Crooners” with the Joe Sealy Quartet and Starlight Orchestra at The Winter Garden Theatre this Friday.
It’s the second time around musically for the middle of three sons of an engineer and homemaker who performed on radio in his native Bombay (now Mumbai) before emigrating to England at age 20.
“I used to do a lot of singing with local bands and All India Radio,” he recalls. “My first contract with All India, for a half-hour show, was a massive 15 rupees, which in those days was $3. My parents perceived that it was going to get difficult for people that weren’t 100 percent Indian, so they decided that they wanted to go live in England. We’re all mixtures: Vietnamese, Scottish, Armenian, French, Indian . . . When we went to England I had to work for a living; I couldn’t really make any money in music.”
After following a brother to Canada in 1970, the economics grad found employment in the travel industry. He made his way through the ranks to president of Adventure Tours and co-founder of Canada 3000. He sold out and ostensibly retired in 1995, before Canada 3000’s demise in 2001 prompted him to start Sunwing.
The 38-years-married father of four claims to be winding down once again, though at a recent rehearsal for the upcoming show with pianist Joe Sealy his BlackBerry was at the ready.
“I still go into the office every day, but now I get in at 9 o’clock instead of 7:30. I can travel a lot more and do more concerts and enjoy the stuff that I didn’t do when I was working full-time.”
It’s one thing, however, for Hunter to record with a band and to sing along with satellite radio’s Sinatra station on the commute between his Scarborough Bluffs home and Sunwing’s Pearson Airport HQ, and entirely another for him to entertain a live audience.
“I think you just have to be yourself, then people accept you,” he says. “I used to be shy, that’s probably why I didn’t sing for 20 years, but I’ve gotten over it. It’s sometimes difficult to read an audience, especially some of the jazz guys. They sit on their hands and when you finish then they clap a lot; they don’t give you too much encouragement in between.
“I don’t have goals in music. I just like doing shows where I get to sing the songs that I enjoy in front of a big band or nice quartet. There’s a lot of people that like that kind of music and in Toronto you don’t get a lot of places where you can hear it. Maybe if we get enough people we can do a show like this once or twice a year to keep reminding people that this music still exists.”