Oswald Cheesman


A household name for much of his career, the affable and very talented Oswald Cheesman was a pioneer of music radio broadcasting who directed the Kiwi Concert Party in the Second World War before helping to establish New Zealand's first national orchestra.

Oswald Cheesman’s passion for music was discovered in his high school years. Choosing to fill spare hours with piano practice, he displayed a talent beyond his years.

A brief stint with the Prudential Assurance Company in 1929 failed to dissuade his enthusiasm, and Cheesman left to join Alf Healy’s band at the Civic Theatre. From here, a sojourn in Sydney and a spell performing for Pacific cruise patrons led to an ongoing affiliation with New Zealand. Beginning in 1936 with weekly broadcasts of his live performances, this partnership would continue until his death.

In 1941, Cheesman agreed to lead a 10-piece band for weekly broadcast on the National Broadcasting Service (NBS), but this was cut short when he joined the army. Serving in the Pacific, he eventually became director of the Kiwi Concert Party, and performed before servicemen around the region. His service ended in 1944, after which he resumed working with the NBS.

Cheesman helped in setting up the National Orchestra (now the NZSO) in 1946-47, and went on to feature as a soloist and conductor for the following 30 years. In 1952 he led a party to perform for troops in Korea and Japan, and in 1970 he was the NZ director of music at Expo ’70 in Osaka.

He was given the APRA Certificate of Honour in 1970, and in 1972 was made an MBE for his services to music. 

Adapted by Patrick Whatman from the DNZB biography by Peter Downes

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leigh Brewer

Posted: 28 Oct 2011

Oswald Cheesman was my personal pianist for two major NZ tours with Ophir Rees Australian Company when I was 8 years old!
We worked together again in 1970! for 5 months when I was choreographer and Ass. Director for NZ National Day's entire performance on the Festival Plaza. I worked with Richard Campion on the synopsis of the entire production and, Douglas Lilburn created an electronic Sound Score, which included "Before Man the Birds" and the "Colonists." [For the NZ Pavillion Theatre I asked Ossie to score 2 short Ballets and wrote a brief synopsis--OTAKI RACES and SONGS OF A YOUNG COUNTRY [SUB TITLED BRIGHT FINE GOLD ]
Am at present in meetings with Philip Norman, [Douglas Lilburn's Biographer] on his sequel, including my further designs for Ballets and my correspondence with 'the Master.'