The Many Facets of Louis Wardiny
Elias Louis Nassour Wardiny
Louis Nassour Wardiny (sometimes Ilyas Wardini) was born 5 March 1894 in Beirut, Greater Syria (today Lebanon) to Nassour and Clemence Wardini. Some documents suggest he immigrated to the United States around 1904 with his family and, for part of his life, lived in Little Syria in Lower Manhattan. Other documents mark his arrival in April 1913, coming to the US from Beirut to La Harve and then New York City. Immigration documents note the change of name from Elias to Louis and give his occupation as both bookkeeper and singer at various points.
In 1917, when the Victor Talking Machine Company still expressed interest in Arab recording artists, Wardiny debuted with 12 sides on six records. While Arab immigrant market clambered to hear more from Wardiny, Victor executives soon shifted direction away from its Arabic and Greek immigrant performers toward American-born English-language market.
Even as a resident of New York City, Wardiny moved between several addresses. He lived in lower Manhattan, then 279 Pacific Street in Brooklyn. In 1919, Wardiny relocated to 193 Harrison Street in Brooklyn. He left the state only to return again by 1924 when he seems to have given one of his addresses as 32 Rector Street.
By 1921, Wardiny pops up in Louisiana, where he worked as a traveling fresh produce peddler. His notoriety outside the Arab immigrant community was virtually nonexistent and peddling kept money in his pocket and a roof over his head. Budding Arab immigrant record entrepreneurs Alexander Maloof and A.J. Macksoud had taken note of Wardiny’s talent and changes to gramophone patent law, soon opened up opportunities for these record salesmen to establish their own independent labels.Wardiny recorded prolifically on the Maloof label and became one of Maloof best sellers. A few years later he signed and recorded a number of solo projects and duets for the A.J. Macksoud Phonograph Company. Wardiny and other Syrian singers/musicians had an outlet for their creative output. Wardiny cut 31 songs for Maloof and 15 songs on Macksoud. Wardiny’s repertoire included two renditions of “Sooria Al Watan” on Maloof #6003 (10”), #6014 (12”), and one on Macksoud #1616 “Souriya El Watan” (12”). Moreover, Macksoud Records released “Souria Ya Helwa” #1320 which offered contrast to “America Ya Hilwa” by Salim Doumani on Maloof Records. Wardiny performed live, moved around the country, and reportedly kept a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings and articles that featured coverage of his concert and early hafla appearances. In addition to moving from New York, Louisiana, Indiana, and Michigan, Wardiny found his way to Kingston, Rio De Janeiro, Cairo, Gibraltar, and around the Mediterranean in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s making stops in Lebanon almost every time he crossed the Atlantic.
Wardiny on Macksoud "Souriya El Watan" #1520 - https://soundcloud.com/user-387335530/louis-wardiny-macksoud-souriya-el-watan-syria-the-nation-1520-ab
Wardiny on Macksoud "Souriya Ya Helwa" #1320 - https://soundcloud.com/user-387335530/macksoud-soyriya-ya-helwa-syria-the-beautiful-louis-wardiny-1320-ab
He played the annual Daughters of Saint George Sunday Night event in 1935 as the feature of a labor day festival. Wardiny married Beulah Rubeck in 28 February 1939 in Indiana; soon after their marriage, the couple travelled to Beirut. Interestingly, Louis and Beulah returned and settled in Erwin, New York. Both owned and operated a restaurant until opportunities arose for Louis to play music and record. In 1940, Wardiny headlined with John Fayad, Wadeeh Bagdady, and Violet Thomason, at Saint Maran’s Hall for a benefit concert to help a Syrian Girls dance troupe. While he registered for World War II, he was too old to enlist.
Billboard Magazine announced the launch of Wardiny's Wardatone Record label, 14 July 1951.
A return 17-day trip to Beirut in 1953 included additional trips to Turkey, Syria, France, Egypt, Spain, and Greece accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Wilford Todd. Life took a turn for the worse by the 1950s. He and Beulah divorced in November 1953. Wardiny disappears from the public record between 1953 and and August 4, 1990 where he’s shown as having died in Beirut, Lebanon.
© Midwest Mahjar