Peter Goddard was ‘dean of Toronto writers’

The finest music journalist that Canada produced has died.

Peter Goddard, musician, author of more than 20 books and the Toronto Star’s full-time pop music critic from 1972 to 1988, died after a battle with glioblastoma at Toronto Grace Health Center on Wednesday night, Carol Ann, his wife of 52 years, told the Star.

He was 78.

Goddard began writing in The Varsity in 1966, jumping to pop music critic for the Globe and Mail before joining the Toronto Telegram in 1967 and then the Toronto Star in 1972. During his first year at the Star, he became the last music critic to win a Juno Award for Music Journalist of the Year before the category was discontinued.

He continued to contribute to the paper until May 2021, with his last published article being a book review about gardening.

“I am very saddened,” said John Ferri, who was the Star’s entertainment editor for part of Goddard’s tenure. “Peter was brilliant, not only as a music writer but as a cultural historian. He understood that music could change minds and move mountains. And he set the standard for all that followed. He was the first of a great line of music writers at the Star that included, among others, Greg Quill, Mitch Potter, John Sakamoto and Ben Rayner.”

Larry LeBlanc, music industry veteran and senior journalist for Celebrity Access, said Goddard had an enviable knowledge of all genres of music.

“Nobody’s vocabulary and skill set was as sharp as his,” LeBlanc said. “Peter Goddard was simply the dean of Toronto writers at a very rich time, when the city was evolving as a music centre: the mid-1960s right up to the ’90s and the turn of the century.”

Lenny Stoute, a freelance colleague of Goddard’s who contributed to the Star, was among many who had high praise for the legend who advised and encouraged him.

“Peter Goddard was an originator, the human template for pop music journalism in Canada and he wore the mantle with grace and humility,” Stoute wrote on Facebook. “He was a kind, generous and supportive man. A fierce fan of music in all its forms, he was a formidable pianist and storyteller, tireless supporter of the Canadian music underdog to whom numerous bands owe their first big break … his passing marks the end of an era.”

Peter Goddard, left, with musicians Scott Erwinn and Ronnie Hawkins as Hawkins celebrated his 45th birthday at the El Mocambo in 1980.

Ron Base, the Star’s movie critic for a decade in the ’80s, said Goddard earned the newspaper’s respect as “a jack-of-all-trades.”

“I think they really appreciated Peter,” said Base over the phone from Florida. “Peter was the real deal. At a time when pop and rock music was ascending in ways that it probably isn’t today, Peter was on the front lines of all of that. And I think the Star really did appreciate him. They thought he was the jewel of the rather tarnished crown that was the entertainment department of those days.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful guy and I’m just so sad that he’s gone.”

Born in Toronto to Audrey and Jack Goddard, an adjudicator and educator with the Royal Conservatory of Music, Peter Darwin Goddard had the musical chops to back his pedigree, studying piano under Margaret Butler at the conservatory, a skill he would demonstrate when accompanying several rock and blues bands up and down the Yonge Street strip in the 1960s.

“I remember him playing a jazz set at the El Mocambo and all of our jaws just dropped,” recalled LeBlanc.

While obtaining his bachelor and master’s of music degrees at the University of Toronto, Goddard studied with Marshall McLuhan and Geoffrey Payzant before graduating as an ethnomusicologist under the tutelage of Mieczyslaw Kolinski for musicology and Gustav Ciamaga for electronic music.

As much as he loved playing music, he enjoyed writing about it more.

“My father was a musician and, of course, I didn’t want to go anywhere near the music,” he told Bill King of FYIMusicNews in a rare interview in April 2021.

“I ended up going into music and writing about it, and there were many reasons for that. John Beckwith told me that what made me unusual was that I was the only person he knew who wanted to write about it. I was into criticism. I love the art of criticism, and it still turns my crank: Pauline Kael in movies; Kenneth Tynan in theatre.

“I wanted to apply that to music, so early on I wrote in The Varsity, and then the Globe and Mail’s John Macfarlane hired me, who I’m forever in debt to. The Globe wanted to update itself, so they hired Urjo Kareda and me to do theatre. After that, the Telegram hired me. The reason I’m mentioning this is that the book I’m writing covers 50 years of this. I came across my first professional review written in 1966 about singer Tom Paxton for the Globe. Just last year, I was writing for the Globe again and now the Star again.

“I certainly wasn’t the hippest person out there and never have been, but I love the world of journalism — a musician-turned-journalist. A nod to Bob Dylan, I guess.”

Peter Goddard and Del Grande in 1978.

Goddard wrote over 20 books, many of them rock biographies with photographer Philip Kamin, including “Ronnie Hawkins: Last of the Good Ol’ Boys” (1989, Stoddart); “Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Myth and the Music” (Greywood, 1973) and, more recently, “The Great Gould” (Dundurn Press, 2017). His forthcoming memoir, “My Private Rock ‘n’ Roll,” will be published by House of Anansi at some point this year.

Carol Ann Goddard said Peter was a “very kind and generous” husband whose biggest passion was France, where he owned a farmhouse in the Limousin area.

“When we bought our house here, he wanted a farmhouse in France,” she recalled. “So he went and bought a farmhouse in France. And he went over every single year, sometimes twice a year, because at that time he was a movie critic, so he would go to Cannes, and when he was the art critic he would go to Venice.

“His mind was going a mile a minute all the time, so he was very exciting and fun to be with.”

Goddard leaves Carol Ann, daughter Kate Woudenberg and son-in-law Jonathan Woudenberg, and grandchildren Abigail, Samantha, William and Callan.

A memorial is planned at St. Peter’s Anglican Erindale church in Mississauga at the end of May.

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