This week’s world music entry is a bit of a history lesson – but it’s a good story, so bear with me.
Born in Newport, Quebec in 1894, Mary Rose Anna Travers seemed destined to live her life in poverty. She was only one of twelve children in a very poor family, and could not afford formal music education. Her father was Irish-Canadian, while her mother was French Canadian, so her musician father taught her both music styles. She began performing at an early age, albeit casually, playing the accordion at a logging camp where she and her father worked in 1908. That same year, she moved to Montreal to become a maid. In 1914, she married Edouard Bolduc, and they began raising their own family in the poverty to which she was accustomed.
Some of Mary’s amateur musician friends performed in a folk music troupe, and were missing a violinist for one performance. They asked her to step in, and were so impressed when she did that they asked her to become a regular. She and Edouard needed the money, so she began playing more and more, even on the radio, and was signed onto Starr Records in 1929. It was for them that she wrote her first song, “La Cuisiniere”, because she needed content to fulfill her contract. Her songs, initially unsuccessful, soon became bestsellers and Madame Bolduc or La Bolduc, as she came to be known, became a household name in the 1930s. However, her career was to be short-lived – she died of cancer in 1941.
La Bolduc had a short musical career, but she managed to rise to fame from the most adverse poverty by sheer talent. Her music, much of it upbeat and comical, but with many songs dealing with the problems of the poor, appealed to listeners during the hardships of the Great Depression, while at the same time preserving traditional folk songs and styles. Today, she is regarded by many as Quebec’s first singer-songwriter.