Roméo Beaudry was, along with his friend Herbert Berliner, the biggest producer of Canadian artists in the first half of the 20th century. Born in Montreal on February 25th, 1882, he spent most of his youth in Quebec City, where his father worked for the Willis Piano Company.
After finishing his classical studies, he became a partner in his father’s music store. In 1912, having found employment as a representative for the Starr Sales Company, he moved to Montreal where he was hired as a music critic for the daily newspaper ‘La Patrie’.
During the era historians have named the Great Haemorrhage, a tremendous number of French-Canadians crossed the border to New England, where they settled and founded many populous exclusively French-speaking communities that became known as ‘Little Canadas’. Having made somewhat of a name for himself as a music critic, Roméo Beaudry, as commissioned by Columbia Gramophone in New York, proposed a list of noteworthy Quebec artists from this vast colony of exiled French talent. Thanks to Beaudry’s recommendations, more than a dozen Quebec artists, including Hector Pellerin, Alex Bédard, Arthur Lapierre, Joseph-Henri Thibodeau, François-Xavier Mercier and Alfred Nohcor, traveled to New York to record at Columbia.
In 1916, the Edmond Archambault store in Montreal hired Beaudry to work in the piano department. In 1918, because of his knowledge of the French-Canadian artistic and musical scene in Quebec, Beaudry was made general manager of the Starr Company of Canada, a newly founded subsidiary of the Starr Piano Company, an American record production company. The following year, Beaudry conceded the pressing contract for the entire production of Gennett records to his friend Herbert Berliner, then owner of a record-pressing factory in Lachine.
In 1920, Roméo Beaudry founded Starr Phonograph of Quebec and created the Gennett 11000 series with the help of Berliner who opened HMV recording studios. This series produced many Quebecois artists, including J. Hervey Germain and other artists Beaudry had brought into Columbia some five years earlier. French artists whom Beaudry had met in France in the summer of 1920 were also included in this series.
Roméo Beaudry’s talent as a versatile author and composer is undeniable. This skillful artist wrote many original compositions, including more than 75 that were performed and recorded by artists on the Starr Records label. Allouette, n’aie pas peur de moi, Laissez parler les fleurs and Votre avion va-t-il au paradis? are just a few of the titles he wrote.
Ingenious and wanting to capitalize on the Canadian and Quebec audiences’ thirst for U.S. hits, Beaudry had Starr artists record more than 150 French adaptations of American hits, including Y mouillera p’us pantoute (It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’) and La chanson du prisonnier (The prisoner’s Song).
Thanks to an aggressive pricing policy, the Starr Company became the biggest music producer in the Francophone market in Quebec. In 1925, Compo, Herbert Berliner’s new record company, bought out the Starr label. Throughout the 1920s, Starr produced close to 700 French language records, a success stemming from Roméo Beaudry’s dynamic musical sense. Interested in all musical genres, he produced lyric, folk and a variety of other artists, including Mary Travers Bolduc, Isidore Soucy, Ovila Légaré, Eugène Daigneault, Placide Morency, Hercule Lavoie, Albert Marier, Rodolphe Plamondon and Alexandre Desmarteaux. Starr can lay the claim to having most of the great names of the time under its label.
Roméo Beaudry’s perceptiveness, resoluteness, love of music and devotion to Francophone artists over close to twenty years, has profoundly marked the evolution of the record industry in Quebec. He passed away on May 6, 1932, at the young age of 50, leaving generations to come a precious and fundamental cultural and artistic heritage.