Billy Munro, composer, pianist, and musical director (1894-1969)

Billy Munro was born in Grenada, in the West Indies, in March of 1894. As a youth, he lived with an uncle in London and studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music and University College School. He immigrated to the United States around 1910 and worked as a silent-movie pianist in a number of American cities before moving to Montréal in 1913. While he continued to play the piano in silent-movie theatres, Munro also performed at the Jardin de Danse in 1917.

He lived in New York from 1918 to 1920, where he played in the celebrated Ted Lewis Orchestra. He composed several songs with this group, including "When My Baby Smiles at Me," written for the review Greenwich Village Follies of 1919. This song became a smash hit throughout North America and was featured in the films Hold That Ghost (1941) and Behind the Eight Ball (1942).

Billy Munro returned to Montréal in 1920 and joined the Melody Kings. The ensemble recorded a number of musical selections in 1923, for Herbert Berliner's Apex label. These recordings included Munro's own compositions "I'll Be Here When You Get Back" and "Music Makes the World Go Round." From 1925 to 1929, Munro played with the Melody Kings at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montréal.

He formed his own dance orchestra and inaugurated the Montréal cabaret Le Frolic (renamed Au Faisan Doré). His orchestra held extended billings at various cabarets, including Chez Maurice, the Lido and the Gatineau Country Club.

Billy Munro turned to freelancing in 1941. He hosted his own radio program on CKAC in 1944 and became the music director at CKVL, a new radio station that began broadcasting from Verdun in 1946. His program, "Les découvertes de Billy Munro," was one of the most popular on French-language radio for a dozen years. From 1947 to 1950, he held the post of music director for the program "Le fantôme au clavier" (CKVL), hosted by Jacques Normand. The artistic collaboration between the two men continued for 15 years, first at the cabaret Au Faisan Doré (1948-1950) and then through most of Jacques Normand's cabaret shows, until the mid-1960s.

Billy Munro passed away in Montréal on October 16, 1969.

Unfortunately, the pianist made few solo recordings. Munro's Jardin de Danse Orchestra recorded "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes" in 1922 (HMV 216357). As well, a recording of "When My Baby Smiles at Me" and "My Blue Heaven" [MP3 1,049 KB] (CH-505) was put out by the Quebec label Alouette in 1952.

Source: Unpublished research notes by Robert Thérien, music researcher, Montréal

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