“…In some ways, the piano covers’ signing ceremony…it’s CKUA saying to the artist we have great respect for you and we’d be honoured if you would do this-and by doing so the artist is honouring CKUA as well.”
Long-time CKUA CEO
Piano covers are designed to stave off nicks and scratches, keep out dust, and protect the instrument from being used as a giant coaster. At CKUA, piano covers also serve as oversized guest books, living artifacts, and silent witnesses to decades of music history.
In 1949, CKUA moved from its location on the University of Alberta campus to the Alberta Block, located at 105 Street and Jasper Avenue. While CKUA’s albums and equipment shifted over to the new building, the station’s performance piano remained the property of the University of Alberta and it stayed put. At the time, CKUA was operated by AGT (Alberta Government Telephones) and they soon purchased a piano for the new building. This Baby Grand came with a cover that slowly but surely began to attract the signatures and scribbles of artists who had visited the CKUA studios.
No one is quite certain where or when the idea came about, or who the first person to sign the piano cover was. Even CKUA’s resident historian and old disc jockey Jack Hagerman is not sure how it all started; but time-worn signatures from the 1950s reveal the station’s lengthy and meaningful history with many musicians who have long since passed away.
The piano cover embraces the names of up-and-comers, big stars, and living legends. It includes the names of musicians who helped to define genres including jazz greats Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, John Lewis, and Herbie Hancock. Great names in rock music including Mark Volman and Ian Underwood of the Mothers of Invention, and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmore, also left their mark. Leonard Cohen signed the piano cover when he was Leonard Cohen the poet. CKUA’s support of Canadian talent is reflected in signatures by Cori Brewster, Joan MacIsaac, and Don Ross, among others.
In 2002, on the occasion of CKUA’s 75th anniversary, the original piano cover was retired and placed in secure storage. The replacement cover now hugs the old Baby Grand in CKUA’s performance studio in the station’s new home at the Alberta Hotel on Jasper Avenue. It too is covered in signatures of musicians and artists who transcend music of the 20th and 21st centuries including Kiran Ahluwalia, Mose Allison, Jann Arden, Rose Cousins, Murray McLauchlan, The Strumbellas, Jimmy Webb, and 100 Mile House.
As whispers of voices from the past and present, the signatures speak volumes about CKUA’s tangible connection to the global music community. Whether they are considered artifacts, time capsules, or pieces of memorabilia, CKUA’s piano covers are treasured objects that reflect the station’s role as a decades-long hub for great musical talent.
“There are stories associated with every one of those signatures… there’s a lot of history and interesting story within those piano covers.”
Ken Regan [Magazine]
Long time CKUA CEO
References and Further Reading
ECAMP Podcast, “The CKUA Piano Cover.”
Sadava, Mike. “CKUA Building Restores History,” Avenue Magazine. Accessed January 19, 2017.
2017 Researched and written by historian Anna M. Rebus, BA, BA, MA, MA (in progress)