Thomas (Tommy) Duchesne was born in Val-Jalbert on Lac-Saint-Jean on May 8, 1909. He learned, as a young boy, to play the violin and then the accordion. He moved to Montréal in 1930, and played first at the Théâtre National as a musician and actor with the Manda (Parent) and Joseph (Eugène Martel) company. He studied music with Rodolphe Plamondon and the piston accordion with Lucien Bickley. After a few difficult years, he got a job in the J. A. Turcot music store and made his radio debut on the program "Mus-ke-gee" (CKAC). In 1935, he formed the group Les Chevaliers du folklore with the fiddler Albert Allard and the guitarist Tony Ouellette.
Starting with Starr in 1934, his recording career stretched over more than 40 years, with a large number of hits including "Valse Denise," "Breakdown de Beauceville," "Reel de Tommy" and "Reel de Sainte-Anne." On the radio, where he appeared in many broadcasts on CKAC in the 1930s, Tommy Duchesne played the musical part on the very first broadcasts of "Réveil rural" in 1938 (SRC) and starred in the broadcasts "L'Anthologie du folklore" (CKAC, 1940) and "Tommy Duchesne et ses Chevaliers" (SRC, 1939-1945), hosted by Paul Dupuis and with the singer Fernand Perron and the caller Oscar Morin.
Tommy Duchesne, with his group, toured military bases in Canada during the Second World War, and also hosted the program "Tommy Duchesne" (CKVL, 1947). His group came to include Denise Émond and her sisters. Tommy Duchesne was very much in demand in more rural areas, but also performed sometimes in Montréal, most notably at the cabaret La Ceinture fléchée in March 1948.
Although Duchesne's popularity as an accordionist declined in the 1950s, he was on the "Swing la baquaise" team (CKVL, 1950-1951?), hosted the "Tommy Duchesne" radio program (CKVL, 1952), and cut new recordings for Alouette (1950-1952), the new record label that Rosaire Archambault had just founded. In early 1957, he appeared every Saturday noon with his Chevaliers du Québec on "Samedi terroir," broadcast on CJMS. Tommy Duchesne continued to perform live and record on the Bonanza label until 1974. He died in Montréal on April 5, 1986.
For more information on Tommy Duchesne's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.
Robert Thérien, music reseacher, Montréal