Claudette on the Keys
A female pianist follows fortune but instead finds fascism on the rise in this tale of intrigue in pre-war times.
Music and hope navigate the treacherous waters of the pre-war period in this detailed, well-researched novel about perseverance and the power of self-discovery.
- Genevieve Graham, author of Letters Across the Sea and The Forgotten Home Child
Inspired by true events, Claudette on the Keys is the story of Ida Fernley, whose stage name is Claudette, and her husband Harry, a Toronto-based duo piano team called the Black and White Spotters. At the height of the Great Depression, the pair are hanging onto their livelihoods by their fingernails. It is the winter of 1936, with the unemployment rate at 17 percent, when they find out that they are being laid off from their live weekly radio program on CKCL due to a pullout by the sponsor, Shirriff’s Marmalade. After their home is re-possessed, they and their two young sons move into Harry’s parents’ home where they try to figure out their next steps. When Ida plays free of charge for a charity concert at Shea’s Hippodrome, she happens to meet a British talent agent who is impressed by her virtuosic rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” He invites her and Harry to come to London to work, where Ida experiences firsthand the rise of fascism and becomes embroiled in pre-war intrigue. Whenever she finds herself in a tough spot, she draws inspiration from her movie-star hero Claudette Colbert. A gripping read for fans of Letters across the Sea by Genevieve Graham and The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.
Author Joanne Culley is descended from Toronto musical royalty and uses her piano-playing grandparents, Harry and Ida Culley, as the leading characters in this intriguing book. Not only does it paint a vivid picture of what life was like for musicians in the depths of the Great Depression, but also of the Toronto that was. Harry and Ida travel to England, looking for a chance to perform, and get embroiled in the dramatic events of 1936-37, including the abdication of Edward VIII from the British throne and the rise of Naziism in Germany. It's a must read for musicians in times like these. I couldn't put it down.
- Glen Woodcock, Host and Producer, The Big Bands on JAZZ.FM91 in Toronto