Doug Riley, the Canadian musician known as “Dr. Music,” has received the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians’ Association.
Riley was born in 1945 and grew up in Toronto. He started playing the piano when he was only three years old as a means of coping and self-expression after being diagnosed with polio. He went on to study music at the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music, then continued with postgraduate work on the music of the Iroquois.
Throughout a long and successful career, Riley was credited on more than 300 albums. He spent 20 years as the music director for the Famous People Players; worked on productions with the Brecker Brothers, Measha Bruggergosman and Placido Domingo; wrote three ballets for the National Ballet of Canada; and scored six feature films.
As a pianist and arranger, Riley had a long list of recording collaborators that included Ray Charles, Anne Murray, Jackie Richardson, Guido Basso, Bob Seger, Ringo Starr, Dione Taylor, David Clayton-Thomas, Gordon Lightfoot, Moe Koffman and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Riley became a member of the Order of Canada in 2003. He was also nominated for a Juno Award in 1981.
Riley died of a heart attack in 2007, at the age of 62.
“Doug Riley was a musical genius,” Guido Basso said in a statement for the Toronto Musicians’ Association. “His knowledge and ability encompassed a diverse range of musical genres from classical, ballet and opera to jazz, R&B and honky-tonk. He was a brilliant composer, arranger and conductor, and an inspired musician who could bring out the best in any kind of keyboard — from piano, to church or Hammond organ — and in any musician who worked with him. He was respected worldwide and his easygoing warm nature and light-up-a-room smiles are still sorely missed and fondly remembered by any who were fortunate enough to call him their friend.”
“Doug’s musical accomplishments are legendary, but his prowess was built on an insight into the building blocks of music and a love of life,” added Bruce Cassidy, a member of Riley’s progressive jazz-rock band Dr. Music in the 1970s. “His range of musical expression ran the gamut: from the raucous to the sublime, from the basic to the experimental. I enjoyed his respect as did everyone else who worked with him. I was floored by the care he took in the people he loved.”
Founded in 1887, the Toronto Musicians’ Association is the professional association for musicians in the Greater Toronto Area, with more than 3,500 members.
Previous recipients of the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award include Bernie Senensky, Neil Swainson, Norm Amadio, Kirk MacDonald, Dave Young, Anne Murray, Archie Alleyne, Guido Basso, Phil Nimmons and Moe Koffman.