A native of Toronto, Tommy Ambrose was born in 1939 and at five years old under the tutilage of Charles B Templeton, began singing at “Youth for Christ” rallies at Massey Hall and Maple Leaf Gardens. As a young teen he performed on gospel radio shows on CKEY and CFRB. He began going more mainstream and within a year he’d appeared several times on CBC TV’s Cross Canada Hit Parade. He paid his dues on the road over the next few years while hosting the summer replacement variety show, While We’re Young.
He was quickly becoming one of Canada’s top teen idols of the day with a pair of singles in the first half of ’59 on Spartan Records – “The Magic Of You,” which made it to #23 on the Canadian pop chart, and “Remember Remember, which also made it to the top 40.
CBC gave him his own variety show that year, the aptly titled Tommy Ambrose Show. Two more singles were released during this period – “We’re Not Too Young” and a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” b/w “Jiminy Jum Jum.” Chateau Records released his first full album in ’62, YOUNG TOMMY AMBROSE, recorded with the Don Thompson Septet. Produced by Art Snider, the songs were either covers (including Irvin Berlin’s “The Song Is Ended” or material laying around the office. His show was cancelled in ’63, and a chance meeting with producer Phil Ramone and composer Patrick Williams led to him singing on a number of jingles and other odd jobs in New York for the next few years. He chose to settle down in the late ’60s and married fellow CBC star Bonnie Hicks.
He got into TV and radio production with partner Larry Trudell, and his next recording wasn’t until ’71. FUZZY LOVE was a project he had with Bruno Gerussi (Beachcombers fame). The double album was half spoken word, half Ambrose covering the likes of George Harrison’s “Someday” to James Taylor’s “Mary Jane.” Released by Kanata and the CBC, the record also marked Ambrose’s first time working with Doug Riley (Klaatu, Dr Music, among others).
His collaboration with pianist Norman Armadio made it to vinyl a year later with “People City,” an artist he’d spent many nights performing in local nightclubs in recent years. The single made it to #44 on the Canadian AC chart. He then released a pair of singles on his own as he delved into a country sound over the next few years – “Summer Song,” which peaked at #19, and “The Night Time & My Baby” (#47) b/w “Sole Survivor.”
But the TV bug bit him again and in ’74 and he launched his new gospel program, Celebration, which ran on CBC til the end of the ’75-’76 season. Riley would eventually become a partner in Ambrose’s production company with Ludell, and also moonlighted with Ambrose on the local club scene with a nine-piece band.
He released the first of two albums through the Canadian Talent Library – SWEET TIMES in ’77, which had no singles, but featured the title track, “Thanks Again,” “I’m Only Human,” and “The Music Within.” Two years later his album with the Doug Riley Band, TOMMY AMBROSE AT LAST was released. It was nominated for a Juno Award in ’81 in the best jazz album category. He then got back onto the airwaves again in the late ’80s, with the short-lived Tommy Ambrose and Friends on CBC, featuring a 35 piece orchestra with guests like Jack Sheldon, James Moody, and Sue Rainy.
Over his jingles/production career, Ambrose has worked with a virtual who’s who on a number of projects, including songs for CITY-TV’s People City, Global’s Point of View program, CTV’s Barcelona Olympic Theme Song, “There are No Strangers,” and several scores for CBC TV movies and series. He also wrote and performed the theme song for the grand opening of the Toronto Skydome, “Open Up The Dome and Let the People Come In,” Labatt Blue’s commercials, and the ‘Wear a Mustache’ milk and ‘Get Crackin’ egg marketing campaigns. He also wrote the Smarties jingle, ‘When You Eat Your Smarties Do You Eat the Red Ones Last?’
For nearly a decade until its sale in ’89, he also owned a downtown Toronto bar that presented jazz artists, called Jingles. In the mid ’90s Ambrose moved to “Niagara on the Lake,” where he developed a show called “Songs Sinatra Taught Me” with writer Frank Peppiatt, creator and writer of “A Man And His Music” for Sinatra. Ambrose performed this show in theatres in Toronto and across Ontario in the late 90’s into 2000. He then resurrected the show a few years later, and it finally made it to CD in 2014.