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. He immigrated to the United States around 1904 with his family and, for part of his life, lived in Little Syria in Lower Manhattan.
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.

By 1921, Wardini 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.Wardini 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, 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.

Wardini 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. Not long after their marriage the Wardinis 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. Wardini 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, Wardini 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. 

Wardini 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, Wardini 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 Wardini's Wardatone Record label, 14 July 1951.

"Gondola on the Nile, #1001A." The second single on Louis Wardini'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. Wardini disappears from the public record between 1953 and August 4, 1990 where he’s shown as having died in Beirut, Lebanon.

Richard M. Breaux

© Midwest Mahjar 


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