The Many Facets of Louis Wardiny

Elias Louis Nassour Wardiny

(Oud, Singer, Producer, Owner)
This lone image of Louis Wardini, 6 September, 1935, Indianapolis Star.

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.

Victor 69469 A, "Yeka Bena Yazaman," recorded by Louis Wardiny, c. 1917.

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.

All discs courtesy of Richard Mz. Breaux collection.

Wardiny moved to Birmingham, Alabama, home to one of the largest Syrian Lebanese communities in the southern United States at the time where he married Minnie P. Martin in November 1925. Saint Elias Maronite Church had operated in Birmingham since 1910 and Saint George Melkite Church had been newly established in 1921. In the same year he married, Wardiny opened at Loew's Palace movie house in Memphis where he performed before the showing of "The Man Who Found Himself." Not long after their marriage the Wardinys moved to Detroit, Michigan. Louis and Minnie struggled through the Great Depression as opportunities for Louis to record dried up with a slumping 78 RPM industry. The couple divorced 11 April 1938.  Louis was single again and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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. 

Wardiny launched a new and exciting venture in 1951 when he established his own Detroit-based label Wardatone. The company released records #1000 - #1020. Similar to the Abdelahad and Karawan Record label that primarily featured the music of their namesake musician/founders, Wardiny did most of the singing on Wardatone sides. Pressings remained limited and never reached the level of popularity or demand as his Victor, Maloof, or Macksoud recordings, yet the Wardatone sessions definitely constitute an impressive body of work.

Billboard Magazine announced the launch of Wardiny's Wardatone Record label, 14 July 1951.

"Gondola on the Nile, #1001A." The second single on Louis Wardiny's Wardatone label.

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.

Richard M. Breaux

© Midwest Mahjar 


Popular posts from this blog

Alexander Maloof: Guardian and Protector of Syrian Music in America

Syrian-born Naim Karacand: One of the Twentieth Century's Most Prolific, Yet Little Known Violin Virtuosos - by *Guest Blogger Ian Nagoski

Mohamed Said ZainEldeen: Fragments in the Life of an Early Columbia Records' Tenor

Albert Rashid: Rashid Sales Company, Al-Chark /the Orient and the Largest Selection of Arabic Records in the United States

“PRINCE” Albert Joseph: An Arab American Record Shop Dealer in Western Pennsylvania Aides Palestinian Refugees

The Incomparable Kahraman and Naif Agby - The Sun and The Planets

Odette Kaddo: Arab music, it gives me Life!

Fadwa Abeid: An Arab American Singer Finds a More Lucrative Career in the Arab World

Hanan: “Don’t Miss Her Wherever She Will Be!!!”