He did it his way: Deseronto and Napanee community remember local music supporter John Malcolm

John Malcolm, who was known not just for his incredible singing voice but also his passion for supporting local musicians, passed away on Dec. 21.

Adam Prudhomme

Deseronto and Napanee’s music scene suffered a huge loss over the holidays with the sudden passing of John Malcolm, on Dec. 21 from esophageal cancer.

John was renowned for his velvet crooner voice which perfectly encapsulated the bygone era of singers like Frank Sinatra.

During his career, he shared the stage with such legends as Jerry and the Pacemakers, Terry Sylvester of the Hollies, The Diamonds, The Marvelettes, The Platters, The Ink Spots, Badfinger and Billy J. Kramer. He was one of the original lead vocalists with “April Wine” when they were still a struggling garage band in Montreal.

One of his favourite projects was starring in “Frank Sinatra: The Man, His Fans, His Music”, a musical written by his wife Deb, specifically for him. It opened at the Kingston Grand Theatre, in 2015, and, by popular demand, returned in 2018.

Talented as he was, his contributions to the local music scene went far beyond his own performances. He always took the time to foster fellow musicians, providing them with a venue to showcase their talents at his former Napanee restaurant “A Bit of Nostalgia”, as well as more recently at “Sentimental Journey Restaurant” in Deseronto.

“He really supported local artists and local musicians and he showcased them whenever he could,” said David Cossaboom, a friend and local musician. “He had everything there. I saw some amazing musicians, and they were all local.” Cossaboom recalled that John was always willing to offer helpful advice to help his stage career.

“He was pleasant to talk to,” added Cossaboom. “If you ever had the chance to sit down at a table with him, it was always a positive thing. He gave me some wonderful, positive critiques of what I was doing performance wise and I’m trying to live up to it now. I’m nowhere near a professional, but it’s just fun making noise.”

John was heavily involved with many local charities, lending his singing talents for fundraisers that benefited the Shriners, the Lioness Club, the United Way, Raising the Roof, OSPCA, the Mohawk Guild, MD, the Children’s Wish Foundation, Diabetes Canada, the local food banks, and many others.

“John’s sense of community was not unlike that of The Mohawk Guild and we are the grateful recipient of his generous fundraising contributions,” said Pamela Detlor, president of the Mohawk Guild. “We shared similar values surrounding community spirit, youth engagement, and the impact of food insecurity. The Mohawk Guild’s fundraising efforts to support the area school’s meal programs was a shared priority.”

It wasn’t just his singing talents he offered for charitable events either, as he and Deb put their cooking skills to use, proud to be part of the original volunteer chefs at Morningstar Mission.

John has passed down his singing ability and stage presence to his sons Ryan and Reagan, with whom he shared the stage first, as a trio and then, after Ryan won Canadian Idol, as a duo, known as “A Bit of Nostalgia”, singing classics from the 1950’s, 60’s & 70’s.

John Malcolm, left, and Reagan Smith of A Bit of Nostalgia entertained concertgoers at the Napanee Lions Hall to benefit L&A Seniors Outreach Services in 2018. Photo by Justin Medve.

Over John’s extraordinary career, he performed at literally thousand of special occasions and events. “The impact that singing those timeless songs had on people’s lives is difficult to put into words,” said his son Reagan. “Making precious memories for his audience was a big part of why he never stopped singing, and he loved it when someone would tell him about their cherished recollections of past performances. A 50th anniversay celebration, birthdays, weddings, they were all very special and personal to him.”

One of the last memories his son Ryan said he had, was spending the afternoon with his father in late November at the Strathcona Paper Centre, watching the Montreal Canadiens Alumni charity hockey game. John was an avid Canadiens fan his whole life, proudly showing off his hockey jersey and stockings, that he received from his father when he was four.

His wife, Deb, of 35 years remembers her “Johnny Boy” as much more than an amazing singer who dedicated songs to her at every performance. He was her soul mate and best friend. He hired her to work for him, and that partnership continued throughout their marriage, working side by side in multiple endeavours. “He would tell people he was never bored, as he wouldn’t know what crazy adventure I would take him on next. I could read his mind, and he would finish my sentences.”

Their last adventure together was their Sentimental Journey Restaurant in Deseronto. The plan had been to open in March of 2020. Renovations were completed, staff hired, supplies ordered in, and then a week before, they were shut down by the government’s Covid mandate.They reopened in September and were shut down again in December. This pattern continued and John joked that they were closed more days than they were open. Reagan came up with their motto ‘the best kept secret in town’, which it was. Even three years later, people would still walk through the door and question how they never knew such a place existed. The charm of an old cannery, the original wooden floors, an actual dance floor, John’s pride and joy a genuine Seaburg jukebox that still played three songs for a quarter. The beautiful stage where John and Reagan would entertain their guests every weekend. And Chef Deb doing what she loved best, cooking. Patrons commented that being there felt like an old-fashioned house party. John would make sure he talked to everyone before they left. It was a dream come true for both of them.

But his real pride and joy were his kids and his grandkids. As Deb recounts, ‘strangers would approach him and ask how his son was doing, meaning Ryan. He would smile and ask, ‘which one?’ Every one of his kids and grandkids held a special place in his heart. He loved being Dad and Papa John.

The family would like to thank all of those who reached out to reminisce with their precious  memories and past interactions with John. Reading them with John and watching videos that people shared with us, was definitely a bright spot during those final days.

The family will hold a Celebration of John’s life on Saturday, January 20, from 1–4 pm at their restaurant, Sentimental Journey, located at 501 Dundas Street, Deseronto. All are welcome.

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