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Minnie Laurel Pardey (1897–1974)

by Jeff Brownrigg

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Edith Emma Pardey

Edith Emma Pardey (1896-1963) and Minnie Laurel Pardey (1897-1974), pianola-roll pianists, were born on 17 January 1896 at Waverley, Sydney, and on 19 September 1897 at Woollahra, daughters of Australian-born parents Edmund Pardey, carriage-builder, and his wife Minnie, née Cooper, a seamstress. By 1912 their mother was running a boarding house at Katoomba. Although they were not Catholics, Edith and Laurel attended a Catholic school, probably Mount St Mary's Ladies' College, Katoomba, where their musical gifts were recognized. They also studied in Sydney for examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music. Each of them gained medals.

On Saturday nights at the boarding house the sisters played popular songs and dances in piano solos and duets. Both improvised skilfully while providing music for dancing or the accompaniment for singing around the piano. Edith also played the organ at St Hilda's Anglican Church. Known by their friends as 'the Girls', they appeared as a piano duet at Sydney Town Hall and often performed during dinner at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba, where George Horton discovered Laurel's pianistic ability.

Recognizing a large potential market for Australian-made piano rolls, he established G. H. Horton & Co. Ltd and engaged the sisters to record. Laurel made her first commercial piano roll in 1919 for the Duo label; the Mastertouch label was used from 1922. The Pardeys were 'nine-to-fivers' and, as the number of artists who were invited to record increased, Edith was expected to edit their work. The sisters had a distinctive pianistic style which they were able to translate to piano rolls. They generally recorded cover versions of North American and European standard popular repertoire. Laurel was interested in foxtrots; Edith specialized in waltzes. They also recorded rolls designed to support parlour singing and could even transform marches into romantic pieces. Their teamwork as a duo proved very successful in the 1920s. The Australasian Phonograph Monthly and Music Trade Review (20 September 1927) claimed that their skills had been 'for years on par with the leading American artists'.

At St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 5 November 1924 Edith married Frank Baker Murn (d.1957), a 29-year-old telegraphist. She continued to perform, usually as Edith Murn or Mrs Murn, until her son was born in 1933. In his spare time Frank wrote lyrics for piano-roll music.

Although the production of pianolas and the making of rolls continued through the 1930s and 1940s, the impact of radio, sound recording and 'talkies' led to the industry's slow decline. Laurel carried on during the late 1930s and World War II. She expressed her lingering celebrity by driving a flashy Chrysler 770 coupé. Giving her age as 35, she married John William O'Sullivan, a 28-year-old buyer, on 16 August 1941 at St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, Sydney; they were to remain childless. The stress of recording and anxiety about her husband who was serving in the Australian Imperial Force caused her to suffer a nervous breakdown.

In the 1940s Edith returned to record for Mastertouch. Whenever the recording machine broke down, she was expected to graph out the music on blank paper which she subsequently turned into a master roll by cutting it out, hole by hole. Barclay Wright remembered her in 1961, 'sitting at a little wicker table', graphing out the master-roll with a music-rule that had been used so often that all the engraved coding had worn off: 'she was virtually doing it from memory'.

Survived by her son, Edith died of cancer on 6 August 1963 at Chatswood and was cremated with Methodist forms. Laurel died on 13 January 1974 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated; her husband survived her. The sisters rarely recorded either light or substantial pieces by classical composers. It was playing of distinction in the genre of their chosen repertoire that made them household names.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Phonograph Monthly & Music Trade Review, 20 Sept 1927
  • Music in Australia, 25 Apr 1930
  • private information.

Citation details

Jeff Brownrigg, 'Pardey, Minnie Laurel (1897–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pardey-minnie-laurel-11418/text20249, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • O'Sullivan, Minnie
Birth

19 September, 1897
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

13 January, 1974 (aged 76)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Occupation