Roméo Beaudry was, along with his friend Herbert Berliner, the most important producer of Canadian artists in the first half of the 20th century.
Born in Montréal on February 25, 1882, Louis-Roméo Beaudry spent most of his youth in Québec City, where his father worked for the Willis Piano Company (a company established in Montréal since 1875). After finishing his classical studies in 1900, Beaudry worked at the National Bank before becoming a partner in his father's music store. Made a representative of the Starr Sales Company in 1912, he moved to Montréal and, at the same time, was a music critic for the daily La Patrie. In 1915, wishing to target the large Francophone community in New England, Columbia Gramophone of New York asked Beaudry to provide them with the names of Québécois artists. It is thanks to Beaudry, that more than a dozen Quebec artists -- including Jean-Marie Magnan, Joseph-Henri Thibodeau, Hector Pellerin, François-Xavier Mercier, Damase DuBuisson, Alfred Nohcor and Honoré Vaillancourt -- recorded in New York for Columbia's E series. In 1916, the Edmond Archambault store in Montréal hired Beaudry to work in the piano department.
In 1917, the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana, which, since 1915, had produced lateral-cut records in the United States, asked John Croden and Wilfred Stevenson, both of London, Ontario, to set up Canadian Phonograph Supply and evaluate the cost-effectiveness of setting up a record division in Canada. Encouraging results led to the creation, in 1918, of the Starr Company of Canada. Because of his relationship with Starr Sales and his knowledge of the artistic world in Quebec, Beaudry was made director general of the company. At the same time, his friend, Herbert Berliner, opened the Compo pressing factory in Lachine (now an area of Montréal). In 1919, Beaudry gave Compo the contract for pressing the entire production of Gennett records using American masters.
In the summer of 1920, Beaudry founded Starr Phonograph of Quebec, whose offices were on Saint-Laurent Boulevard in Montréal. With the help of Berliner, who opened the HMV recording studios to him, Beaudry created the Gennett 11000 series on which one finds Beaudry's friend, J. Hervey Germain, as well as Hector Pellerin, Arthur Lapierre and Alex Bédard -- artists Beaudry had brought into Columbia a few years earlier. During a trip to France with John Croden in the summer of 1920, Beaudry began negotiations with French artists, some of whom appeared in the 11000 series.
In April 1921, following a disagreement, Herbert Berliner left the family business to concentrate on Compo and to start his own record company (called Sun, which became Apex shortly thereafter). He opened a recording studio in Montréal, where records of the new Starr 12000 series were recorded beginning in July 1921. Berliner started a price war, selling his Apex records at 65 cents. Thanks to an alliance with Compo, Starr also sold records at the low price, whereas HMV and Columbia refused to drop below the 85-cent mark. This energetic policy allowed Starr to become the most important producer in the francophone market in Quebec, whereas the Columbia company was drawn towards bankruptcy and HMV felt the pressures of the arrival of the radio, the departure of Herbert Berliner and the sale of its assets to the Victor Talking Machine.
In 1925, Compo bought out the Starr label, probably in partnership with Roméo Beaudry. During the 1920s, Starr produced 693 francophone records, compared to the slightly more than 500 by HMV and 287 by Columbia. Without a doubt, this success stemmed from Roméo Beaudry's dynamism and musical sense. Interested in all musical genres, he produced lyric, folk and variety artists with equal success. Isidore Soucy, Ovila Légaré, Eugène Daigneault, Alfred Montmarquette, Placide Morency, Hercule Lavoie, Albert Marier, Charles Marchand, Rodolphe Plamondon, Alexandre Desmarteaux -- almost all the great names of the time -- recorded for Starr. But his most brilliant feat remains the discovery of Mary Bolduc, in whom he put his faith despite the failure of her first records. The success of the girl from Gaspé was, in fact, what saved Starr when it was caught in the turbulence of the 1929 crash.
Roméo Beaudry also established Radio Music Publisher / Éditions Radio, a sheet music company whose offices were located at 1200 Amherst Street, in the new Montréal offices of Starr.
American hits became increasingly popular after the First World War. To allow local artists to take advantage of the Canadian and Quebec publics' thirst for this music, Beaudry had his Starr and His Master's Voice artists record more than 150 French adaptations of American hits. Some of them are still known today:
Roméo Beaudry also composed original songs, of which more than 75 were recorded. Among his most famous are:
On Friday, May 6, 1932, when Mary Bolduc and her daughter finished a recording session, Roméo Beaudry was, as usual, in the studio. The following morning, the artistic community was saddened to learn that Beaudry had died of a heart attack at his home at 670 Stuart Street in Outremont. He had celebrated his fiftieth birthday just a few months earlier. Known as much for his kindness as for his faith in Québécois talent, Roméo Beaudry made an important mark on the development of the Québecois record industry for close to twenty years.
Several of Roméo Beaudry's songs are found in collected works of music scores:
For more information on Roméo Beaudry's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.
Robert Thérien, music researcher, Montréal