Luigi Romanelli | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Luigi Romanelli

Romanelli, Luigi. Orchestra leader, violinist, b Belleville, Ont, 29 Nov 1885, d Murray Bay (La Malbaie), Que, 29 Jul 1942.

Romanelli, Luigi

Romanelli, Luigi. Orchestra leader, violinist, b Belleville, Ont, 29 Nov 1885, d Murray Bay (La Malbaie), Que, 29 Jul 1942. He was the son of the Italian-born harpist Joseph Romanelli (1859-1944, a concert and theatre musician in Toronto) and a nephew of Rocco Romanelli (d 1941, a violinist known as 'Romanelli the Great,' who toured briefly with Enrico Caruso in the USA and accompanied Nellie Melba).

In his youth Luigi Romanelli played the violin on Toronto street corners for a young dancer, George Weitz (later of George White Scandals fame), and at 12 made his stage debut as an actor with Mary Pickford (then known as Gladys Smith). In 1904 he joined a vaudeville troupe from Christie Lake, Ont, the Marks Brothers Touring Co, as a violinist. He also performed with the Cummings Stock Co before touring Canada 1906-12 as a violin soloist. He studied in Toronto about this time with Jan Hambourg. Thereafter an orchestra musician in various Toronto theatres, and briefly orchestra director at the Strand, Romanelli became music director of the Allen Theatres chain following a period of study in 1918 in Europe. His was one of the first theatre orchestras to accompany silent films with descriptive music. The Romanelli orchestra at Shea's Theatre is thought to have been the first in Canada to broadcast on radio (1922, over CFCA).

In his day one of Canada's most popular orchestra leaders, Romanelli became music director for United Hotels in Canada in 1923 and at his death had performed at the King Edward Hotel, Toronto, for more than 20 years, and at Manoir Richelieu, Murray Bay, Que, for four summers. Concurrently Romanelli's 11-piece radio orchestra, the Monarchs of Melody, was heard on CRBC and CBC and, occasionally, in the USA on NBC's 'Blue' network. Over the years his musicians included Johnny Burt, the saxophonist Nat Cassels, Trump Davidson, the trombonist-arranger Seymour 'Red' Ginzler, Alfie Noakes, and the bassist Gurney Titmarsh. The Romanelli orchestra made some 78s for HMV, Edison, and Bluebird. Romanelli also led a concert ensemble which included his father, Joseph, Leo Barkin, Charles Mathé, and Titmarsh. His brother-in-law, violinist Enrico Del Greco, was concertmaster.

Two of Romanelli's brothers were also violinists and orchestra leaders in Toronto. Don (1891-1960) played in his teens with the dance band of Charles Bodley, organized bands as early as 1918 for the Lake Ontario cruise ships Cayuga and Chippewa, and led the orchestra at the Royal York Hotel in the early 1930s. Leo (1902-1961) joined the Monarchs of Melody at 17 and later became assistant director, assuming the leadership on his brother's death. He later led the orchestra at the King Edward Hotel.