When Doris Potter was 14, she and her 11-year-old sister had a banjo act. The Austin Sisters once appeared on Ken Soble’s Amateur Hour on a Hamilton radio station, and came in second. "We won a mantle clock for the living room," recalls Doris.
She still has that Gibson banjo. It sits in the bay window of her living room at the Don Mills Seniors Apartments in Toronto. She hasn’t played much lately because of a sore shoulder, but whenever she does it gives her the same old pleasure. "It’s still meaningful to me. When I play, I just lose myself in the music," says Doris, 91.
Doris raised three children with her late husband Aubrey, a Toronto police officer. She has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, with another on the way. While she was busy with family, the banjo went into a closet…where it stayed for about 40 years.
Yet that was just an interlude. "I always treasured it," she says. One day in her mid-70s, she pulled out the old case. She never forgot how to strum it. Doris joined the Toronto Banjo Band and had a blast, not just from playing but from the positive energy. "Musicians are generally happy people," she says.
Doris Potter, 91, is a resident at Don Mills Seniors Apartments
Through playing, she has had amazing experiences, like walking in a parade of 500 banjo players down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. She and two other ladies (Doris was the eldest) formed the Scarborough String Trio (banjo, bass and piano), and started performing in retirement homes and hospitals. They had gigs up until about a year ago.
Having a passion to follow through life has given Doris great enjoyment. But what really brings happiness to her is a feeling of kinship. She felt in when playing with a band, and she feels it now playing with her poker group – nickel, dime and quarter chips, with a $2 buy-in.
She can feel it any time, just by opening herself up to the people she meets. "Everyone has a story to share," says Doris. "There’s always something interesting to talk about. I’m lucky to have a lot of old friends, and a lot of new friends here too. I’ve learned that if you have a smile, you get a smile."