Weddings, corporate events, Bar mitzvahs, Sweet Sixteens, bridal shows, and now Boomer shows, Sheldon Kagan and his family ensure that everyone has a good time

Growing up in the Snowdon/Cote des Neiges area, Sheldon Kagan knew at a young age that he wanted to entertain people. “I had a passion to be a DJ and to entertain people” he says at the beginning of our interview. We were in his comfortable home office, where the entire family is involved in Sheldon Kagan International, a thriving entertainment and exposition business.

A long way from the early days of playing records at high school dances for $35 a night.

Leo and Sarah Kagan had a different passion for their eldest son – that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Dr Harry Rosen and have a career in dentistry. “I had no interest – and there was a lot of friction in the household.” Sheldon continues, “I had already started to get jobs as a DJ for dances. I felt that I had to break away – so at the age of fourteen I quit school and ran away from home.”

“My parents were understandably upset, but my mother was supportive. I had taken a small apartment that was only about six blocks from home; and my mom would bring me food and clean clothes.”

“I was the DJ for dances at the Snowden Y, and called myself Shelly The K”, a take-off on the then legendary New York City disc jockey, Murray The K. “I must have been good, because people asked me to come back. Others asked me to come and provide the music and entertainment for their dances or parties.” Sheldon had his own equipment, and transported it to his jobs. “I was the first mobile DJ!” There was more work than one man could handle; “I brought in 3 or 4 other DJs, and that way we were able to do several jobs a night”.

Sheldon also had a passion for Big Band and jazz music. He did research, and found out which agents booked the jazz bands. At the same time he contacted Place des Arts management by telephone. “I made all these contacts by telephone. I worried that if I went in person, they’d see that I was a kid, and that they wouldn’t take me seriously.”
Having made the initial contacts, Sheldon was about to move from being a DJ at teen dances to being a full-fledged music promoter – and still a teenager. “I had saved up some money, and I booked Dizzy Gillespie and Gene Krupa into Place des Arts for December 11, 1969. I paid them each $2,500 U.S. with a 50% deposit up front.” At nineteen, Sheldon was the youngest person to ever book an act into Montreal’s most prestigious music venue, Salle Wilfred Pelletier – a ‘record’ that still stands.

It was a success. “I made a little money, and I had already booked my second show for January 22, 1970 with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Jackie Mason. We sold 2,963 tickets from $3.50 to $6.50 and it was a complete sell-out. The young promoter was on a roll… “At that point I believed I was going to be rich!”

Sheldon continued to promote shows and he and his DJs continued to play music and entertain at all kinds of social events.

The shows weren’t always sell-outs, but on balance they were generating a profit. “My parents always came to my shows. My mother told me that it hurt her to see red seats” – meaning ‘empty’ seats in the elegant Salle Wilfred Pelletier.

Sheldon was about to be introduced to the vagaries of being an impresario. “I had booked Buddy Rich and Woody Herman and their bands in March 1972. The Sunday evening show at Place des Arts had been sold out for over a month prior to the performance. On Saturday morning I received a call from Buddy Rich’s agent saying that the drummer had slipped a disc in his back in rehearsal for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and he would not be coming to Montreal for the next evening’s performanc

While this was indeed upsetting news, the young promoter was used to doing his best in difficult situations. “I sent an employee to New York, with the mission to go to all the clubs and find someone who could replace Buddy Rich for the next night. He called from the Village Vanguard early Saturday evening, saying he had a guy who was relatively new, and that he would come to Montreal with his three musicians for $1,500 U.S. He also wanted me to provide equipment.” Warming to the story and with a conspiratorial grin, Sheldon continues; “I went on stage on Sunday evening, explained the situation and offered refunds. Some people took it. Those who stayed had a special treat when the incredible guitarist and singer George Benson opened the show. He was just becoming famous, and one year later he was commanding $125,000 for his performances – a far cry from our $1,500.”

Sheldon continued to book top jazz performers, including Duke Ellington (3 times), Lionel Hampton, Herbie Mann, the irascible Myles Davis, and even the Amazing Kreskin. Many of the jazz artists were represented by the Willard Alexander Agency in New York. He was still making all of his arrangements by telephone – still conscious of his young age. “Our main agent was Bob Kasha, and he finally insisted that we meet – as a courtesy to me because of all the bookings we had done with his agency. Bob sent me a first class ticket, and limo took me from the airport to the Waldorf Astoria on Fifth Avenue. They were treating me very, very well.”

The next morning, Bob did a double take when Sheldon walked into his office. “I’m sure he was ready to say; ‘Son, I’m sorry that you’re father couldn’t make it.’ He later told Sheldon that that was indeed his initial thought.

“I liked to meet the performers at the airport myself. My car wasn’t much, and my friend Derek Hill was the General Manager of Hertz here in Montreal. Derek would let me take out the nicest car available.” This arrangement almost backfired when Sheldon went to meet Myles Davis. “As I started to introduce myself and welcome him to Montreal, Myles interrupted me; ‘Hey – you must be moneybags…where’s my money?’” Sheldon continues: “I explained that our contract called for a 50% deposit, which he had already received – but that I’d be happy to settle up with him at intermission instead of the end of the show if that suited him better.”

Sheldon took him straight to the hotel – no tour of the city as we came in from the airport. “A few minutes before the 8 o’clock show time, I asked if they were ready. I stepped out on stage and began to welcome everyone to the show – when from behind the curtain Myles Davis and his band began to play, leaving me in mid-sentence in front of the audience. I just threw up my hands and said over the band’s music, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – Myles Davis’. It isn’t one of my fondest memories. However in retrospect I believe that it was his problem to be so miserable.”

The good moments far outweigh to bad. “On the other hand, Duke Ellington would be working on a new piece and he’d say, ‘Sheldon would you listen to this new one I’m writing and tell me what you think…’.Another time Clive Davis, President of Columbia Records called me to see if we could replace John Hammond in a show we had scheduled with a new act the label had – Loggins and Messina.

Sheldon turned his DJ experience to larger events, organizing a series of singles parties in the 70s. “In all, we produced 40 Singles Bashes at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and Le Windsor.” For a New Year’s Eve party in 1972, Sheldon had the foresight to arrange for television screens because everyone wanted to watch the Canada-Russia hockey game. “It was a huge success – we even had screens outside on Peel Street, and people stopped to watch.”

Weddings were an important part of Sheldon’s DJ business, and he needed to get more brides to hear about him and his entertaining performances.

He organized his first bridal show in 1980 at the Holiday Inn Pointe-Claire. “I had approximately 30 exhibitors, and about 300 visitors. Now, 27 years later, we had 15,000 visitors (of whom 2,500 were brides-to-be) at our last show with over 160 exhibitors. I’m very proud of the fact that we have the longest running bridal show in Quebec.”

However, the bridal business is being overshadowed by the surging Baby Boomer market. “Stats Canada reports that the baby boomers have the most disposable income of any generation in Canadian history. I believed that there was a market niche for our company. This past May we staged our first Salon des Baby Boomers Plus, and it was a huge success. We had over 21,000 visitors, and that was during the tail-end of a transit strike – when people weren’t sure if the metro was running or not!”

Sheldon enthusiastically continues on his latest project; “We had 230 exhibitors, with a waiting list of 39 companies that we didn’t have space for. Our Show in 2008 is booked for April 12th and 13th. We’ve taken more space at the Palais des Congres and we’re confident that this earlier date will be better for many exhibitors, especially travel companies. To complement our Salon, we’re planning a series of Baby Boomer dances and travel events.

In another complementary field, Sheldon Kagan International is working in tandem with R & R Wealth Streams to produce a Health and Wealth Gala at the Mount Royal Centre on September 19th. “Bob Proctor, the accomplished motivational speaker, author of ‘Born Rich’ and the hugely popular best seller and hit movie ‘The Secret’ is our keynote speaker.” The event will follow the same format as the Bridal and Boomer shows, with a trade show open to all attendees, and followed by the presentations of the speakers.

With all these businesses developing, you might think that Sheldon Kagan no longer has the time or inclination to participate in his original DJ business. “After 42 years, I still perform as a DJ. I’m still passionate about it. I’ve always said to my wife Linda that if I ever feel like a dinosaur – I’ll stop.” But that’s not likely to happen any time soon. “About 5 years ago I brought my son Barry into the business. He’s 18 now, and together we’re a phenomenal combination. He has a great knowledge of new music, and with my history we put on a great show. We make people sing, dance and laugh!”

Everyone in the family is involved in the business. “I met my wife Linda at a Royal Bank party where I was performing. She asked for My Way, and I said I’d play it for her tomorrow if she gave me her phone number. I called her the next day and asked her out on a date.” The date turned out to be a Christmas party at Mother Tucker’s. “She even helped to carry in the equipment! Linda came to all my parties until about six years ago, when Barry started to help out.”

Daughter Marlene has been a model in Salon des Mariées since she was a year old. Now 21, she co-ordinates the Salon fashion shows, and pitches in to do whatever needs to be done during the other shows organized by the company.

With a twinkle in his eye; Sheldon confides that the best part of Sheldon Kagan International for Marlene is the company’s Jamaican division.

“For the past 10 years, we’ve performed at hotels in Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay as guest DJs. Barry and I play the music, Linda plays tennis and Marlene tans on the beach.” Sheldon continues; “We do about 10 – 15 weddings a year in the Caribbean. We have a trusted local staff and full sets of equipment already down there. We do so much in Jamaica that when Butch Stewart, the owner of Sandals and Beaches Resorts took delivery of a new jet from Bombardier; we were hired to co-ordinate the party for the delivery of the jet.”

It’s a very long way from a 14 year old kid with a lot of nerve and playing records that he cadged from local radio stations. Sheldon Kagan International now employs nearly 40 people on a full and part time basis, plus the musicians and sub-contractors that have regular work with the company. “We’re doing weddings, Bar mitzvahs, and parties for the kids of people we helped out at their weddings 20 and 30 years ago. We’ve made some wonderful friendships over the past 47 years. Just like when I was 14 and starting out – I guess they like us!”

The Montrealer doesn’t normally provide contact information for our interview subjects – but who knows – maybe there’s a party in your future. Sheldon Kagan International: 514-631-2160 or

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