“What I love most about live music is the reaction, the happiness of the crowd. When you see an artist up there on stage giving 150%...when you see thousands of people go out of the hall, happy and flying high, ecstatic and singing and dancing…that's what makes it worthwhile, really worthwhile, to me.”
Ron Sakamoto is a multi-award-winning music promoter who has represented the biggest names in music. While internationally successful, he remains steadfastly true to his roots, generously supporting Albertan musicians, students and communities.
Ron Satoshi Sakamoto was born in Coaldale, Alberta, in 1943 and grew up on a farm near Medicine Hat. Like Ron, his parents were born in Canada, but they were relocated from Vancouver to Coaldale, where they were interned during World War II. Ron has no memory of those days. When he would ask his parents about the experience, they would encourage him to focus on the positive instead, to pick something he really loved to do, to work hard and pursue his dreams. That’s exactly what he did.
Ron’s love of music developed early as he spent countless hours driving the tractor on the family farm. To keep himself occupied while he was plowing or harrowing or disking, he would sing to himself. His parents encouraged his musical interests, buying him a guitar and music lessons.
Like many young Albertans, Ron played hockey. And he was good, ultimately playing for the Medicine Hat Blades in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. But when an injury landed him in the hospital, Ron changed his course to pursue music full time. Early evidence of his entrepreneurial spirit came in his teen years when he opened a teen nightclub in Medicine Hat called Honeycomb A Go Go.
As he became more experienced and booked better known and more costly musicians, Ron realized he would need a larger venue to turn a profit. So he moved to Lethbridge and opened a second club called the Ron Sakamoto Varsity Club. But he didn’t stop there. Ron expanded further, starting his music promotion company Gold & Gold Productions Ltd. in 1968, which became an international success story, thanks to his integrity and hard work.
Ron defied expectations when he chose his base of operations. Rather than establishing himself in a larger centre like Vancouver or Toronto, the Alberta farm boy preferred to remain in Lethbridge. As his connections in the music industry grew, Ron was also instrumental in creating Sakamoto Agency, so he could help in the capacity of both agent and manager for artists.
Ron has booked literally hundreds of musicians, from the Beach Boys and Kiss, to Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. He is on a first-name basis with some of the biggest names in the industry. And music is just part of his repertoire. He manages other large entertainment events like wrestling competitions, monster truck shows, horse races and golf tournaments like the PGA at his Paradise Canyon Golf Resort. His diverse business interests include stakes in the Rocky Mountain Turf Race Track, Bully’s Casino, and a music app called Muzooka, which Ron anticipates will revolutionize the music industry. To this day, Ron’s reputation is so respected that his handshake is his contract.
Sought for his business acumen and encyclopedic knowledge of the music industry, Ron has served on boards of directors of national and international industry associations, including the Canadian Country Music Association, the Country Music Association of America, and the International Entertainment Buyers Association.
Yet, as his success and sphere of influence has grown, Ron has never forgotten where he comes from. Though his business may take him from London to Los Angeles, Lethbridge is still where he calls home. It’s where he met wife Joyce, raised three children and celebrated the births of their six grandchildren.
Ron’s commitment to helping others is as strong as his love for Alberta. A long list of Albertan and Canadian musicians have benefitted from his belief in paying forward his success.
After 50-plus years of international success, Ron would be justified in taking things easy and revelling in past achievements. But as someone who thrives on the “excitement of accomplishment,” he remains as busy as ever. He continues to work with major acts like Keith Urban and Johnny Reid, while also mentoring groups like The Washboard Union, all for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Ron and Joyce thrive on creating new opportunities for southern Alberta’s next generation of students to excel. And there’s a depth to their contributions to the community. It’s clear that the Sakamotos want to help make a difference in their community.
Their support for education embraces all ages, from kindergarten to Grade 12 to post-secondary. Galbraith Elementary School was able to start a music program, thanks to the guitars Ron and Joyce bought for the school. On a larger scale, they supported One Book One District, a local literacy initiative that was a first in North America. With funding from the Sakamotos, Lethbridge School District 51 was able to purchase 13,000 copies of the book Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, so students could discover the joy of engaging in a shared reading experience. The story galvanized the entire district, drawing teachers and extended family members into the reading program.
The University of Lethbridge in particular has benefitted greatly from the Sakamotos’ long-standing philanthropy over the years. In 2010, they established the Joyce and Ron Sakamoto Music Scholarship for the Digital Arts and Music program. Recognizing that Canadian music scholarships were limited, they established not just one, but a significant series of student awards to recognize academic achievement and research in the ever-growing field of digital audio arts. These awards have translated into dozens of students choosing to stay in Alberta to pursue their studies, rather than relocating to eastern Canada or the United States.
Given Ron’s steadfast support for the university, his colleagues, friends and admirers joined forces to establish an award in his name for business students. And so the Ron Sakamoto Business Management Scholarship was born.
In short, Ron is a true friend to the University of Lethbridge. When he received an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the university in 2003, he was celebrated as a worthy example of success in one’s chosen profession and commitment to one’s community.
Ron’s generosity extends throughout the province. Moved by the plight of Albertans forced from their homes by the 2013 flood in Calgary and the 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray, he was instrumental in organizing the Flood Aid and Fire Aid benefit concerts.
As of 2019, Ron has received 46 national and international awards as his excellence is celebrated by his peers, the artists he represents and his community at large. After winning the Canadian Country Music Association’s Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year Award 17 times in a row, the award was renamed after him. In 2017, Ron received a particularly personal tribute when the Blackfoot Nation honoured him with a Blackfoot name Komahniisihnskii, meaning “Owns Many Songs,” and an eagle feather headdress. Ron also is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Alberta Centennial Medal.
Since he shows no signs of slowing down, his award count is very likely to grow. But no matter how many honours may come Ron’s way, he and Joyce will still be living in Lethbridge as they cheer on Alberta’s next generation.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence