Mary Rose-Anna Travers, known as Madame Bolduc or simply La Bolduc was a French-Canadian singer and musician. La Bolduc was Quebec’s first singer and songwriter and she was known as the Queen of Canadian Folksingers.
La Bolduc was born in Newport, Gaspesie Region, on June 4, 1894. Mary Rose-Anna and her eleven siblings spoke English at home, but they also spoke French. The family was poor, but the girl attended school for a time, becoming literate in French.
Mary learnt traditional music from the two heritages, both Irish melodies and French-Canadian folk tunes. Her only music teacher was her father, who taught her how to play the fiddle, accordion, harmonica, spoons and Jew’s harp
In 1908, at the age of thirteen, she began giving public performances, when she would play the accordion at the logging camp where she worked as a cook. The same year Bolduc was sent to live with her half-sister Mary-Ann in Montreal, where the future singer worked as a maid. A few years later she took a job at a textile mill.
On August 17, 1914, Bolduc married Édouard Bolduc, a plumber. The couple had twelve children (not an usual fact for the époque), but eight of them died in their childhood.
In 1921 the family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, but Édouard had been unable to secure work in Springfield. Thus Mary Bolduc entertained her family with her musical talents.
When Conrad Gauthier’s troupe was missing a folk violinist for a performance, one of Bolduc’s friends arranged for Mary to fill in for the absent performer. Gauthier was impressed by her performance and asked her to return for subsequent productions. Bolduc became a regular player with Gauthier’s troupe by 1928, playing the violin or Jew’s harp. Her work expanded to include other instrumental work and even some comic acting.
Musical producer Roméo Beaudry of the Compo Company signed her to a recording contract to make four 78 rpm records. She made her first recording in April 1929, the French folk song Y’a longtemps que je couche par terre on side A, and an instrumental reel on side B., but the first record was a commercial flop.
Bolduc’s second recording was released for Christmas of 1929. The side A had an original song of Bolduc’s, La Cuisinière. Side B was an adaptation of an English folk song Johnny Monfarleau. The record sold more than twelve thousand copies, unprecedented in Quebec.
Bolduc became a household name in Quebec. With this success, Roméo Beaudry had Bolduc releasing a double-sided record every month. By the end of 1930, she had recorded more than 30 songs. During this time, she collaborated on not less than fifty-six recordings of other artists and she would sing accompaniments or play instruments for recordings by Juliette Béliveau, Eugène Daignault, Ovila Légaré, Alfred Montmarquette, Adélard St. Jean and other musicians and singers.
Bolduc’s first headlining performance was in Lachute, a small community near Montreal, in November 1930. The audience was extremely receptive to her music and she was inspired to start her own show. In March 1931 she took an offer from a burlesque company at the Théâtre Arlequin de Québec to perform as their main act. Starting in Hull in May 1931, she travelled western Quebec and Montreal, finishing in Sept-Iles in July.
Bolduc formed her own touring troupe in 1932, named La Troupe du bon vieux temps. Her performances contained elements of both vaudeville and traditional folk music. In 1934, her troupe went on a tour of New England, and in 1935, they toured Ontario.
Beginning in 1935, her daughter Denise would appear with her as a pianist. Other children occasionally appeared as backup singers
In June 1937, Bolduc was injured in Rivière-du-Loup, near Rimouski, when her tour company’s car was in a head-on collision. The singer suffered a broken leg, a broken nose and a concussion. In Rimouski Hospital, doctors discovered a cancerous tumour.
Bolduc began radiation treatment at the Radium Institute in Montreal. Later she began limited touring again in 1938, but only in the Montreal area. She made a radio broadcast in January 1939, and made two recordings the next month. One of those songs, Les Souffrances de mon accident – The sufferings of my accident was on her accident.
Mary-Rose-Anne Travers de Bolduc died of cancer on February 20, 1941 in Montreal.
Recordings of about one hundred of her songs survive (many of those which do not survive were written for special occasions). The best known song is Si Vous Avez une Fille qui Veut se Marier – If You Have a Daughter who Wants to get Married.
Till now some debate exists as to whether Mary Bolduc or Félix Leclerc should be identified as Quebec’s first singer/songwriter. Either way, both had decisive influence on the development of Quebec’s folk music culture.
Bolduc’s use of colloquialisms and working-class vocabulary influenced future musicians like Gilles Vigneault, Clémence Desrochers, André Gagnon, Robert Charlebois
On August 12, 1994, a postage stamp was released in Canada that honoured Bolduc with her portrait. The stamp was designed by Pierre Fontaine based on images from Bernard Leduc.