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La Bolduc's Ballads -- A Sung Chronicle of Current Events in Quebec, 1930-1940

When Mary Travers Bolduc signed a recording contract that required her to write two songs per month, she turned to current events for inspiration to fill her quota. Raised in a musical culture in which ballads were the spontaneous expression of the emotions of the common people, she found it natural to continue this living tradition by creating her own songs and ballads. She soon found herself the spokesperson for working-class men and women in Quebec and French Canada. For listeners now, in the 21st century, her songs are windows on the shared opinions and experiences of working-class Quebeckers of the 1930s.

Most of La Bolduc's songs gave light-hearted treatment to serious subjects such as the economic deprivations of the Depression years. Audiences opened their arms and hearts to these songs because they allowed people to laugh at their own misfortunes and at everyday characters just like themselves. In songs like "Ça va venir découragez-vous pas", Bolduc spoke directly to the common people about their own experiences of hardship. Like the singer and her characters, her listeners had stood in the crowds watching King George VI, the R-100 dirigible and the solar eclipse, and they had shared in the excitement depicted in the lyrics.

In these songs, Bolduc captured (for listeners then and now) the spirit, the joys and the frustrations of her people. In chronicling their history, she became one of Canada's first and best-known balladeers.

The following are some of Mary Travers Bolduc's songs about actual events:

"Ça va venir découragez-vous pas": A 1930 song about the economic collapse Canadians experienced in the Great Depression, referring to the newly elected government of Prime Minister R. B. Bennett. Recorded September 1930.

"Toujours l'R-100": Commemorates the arrival at St-Hubert, Quebec of a lighter-than-air dirigible, at the end of its 79-hour transoceanic journey, August 1930.

"L'Enfant volé": The kidnapping of the infant son of aviator Charles Lindberg was a huge news event in 1932. The music and lyrics of this song are in a very different style from the rest of Bolduc's repertoire, which has led some to suggest that Bolduc did not compose this song. Recorded May 1932.

"Les Américains": This topical song refers to the U.S. Prohibition against alcohol, and the Americans who travelled to Montréal in search of liquor. Recorded May 1932.

"Sans travail": A July 1932 song about chronic, widespread unemployment during the Depression.

"As-tu vu l'éclipse?": The solar eclipse of August 31, 1932, the first in 300 years, attracted huge crowds and was preserved in this song, which was never recorded.

"Roosevelt est un peu là": As this song relates, Canadians were familiar with U.S. President Roosevelt's New Deal plan to salvage the economy from the depths of the Depression. Written around 1933 or 1934 Bolduc performed this song but did not record it.

"La Gaspésienne pure laine": Inspired by the 400th anniversary celebrations, in 1934, of explorer Jacques Cartier's settlement of the Gaspé region of Quebec. Recorded March 1935.

"Les Cinq Jumelles": This song memorialized the publicity circus that followed the birth of the famed Dionne Quintuplets, May 28, 1934 in Callander, Ontario. This record, made in March 1935, was one of La Bolduc's best sellers.

"Le Nouveau Gouvernement": This unrecorded song looks forward to an improved economy upon the 1936 election of the government of Maurice Duplessis in Quebec.

"La Visite royale": The Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the mother of Queen Elizabeth II) in 1939 was cause for celebration. Bolduc, nearing the end of her illness, did not record this song either.

"Tout le monde a la grippe": A song about an outbreak of influenza in February 1939.

"Si je pouvais tenir Hitler": Bolduc tells her listeners what she would like to do to Hitler. She wrote this song a few days after war was declared, but never recorded it.

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