Claudette on the Keys by Joanne Culley

(14 customer reviews)


“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.”

Quote by Glen Woodcock, Host and Producer, The Big Bands on JAZZ.FM91 in Toronto

SKU: 9781990326011 Categories: , Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


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 The Gown by Jennifer Robson and The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.

The world of Depression-era musicians – and especially the musical world of Ida, or Claudette – is superbly rendered. The highs and lows of a performer’s life, from anxious insecurity to concert euphoria, feels wonderfully authentic. And the book’s many details about the era’s popular songs and performers give the novel great authenticity and bring the story to sparkling life.

  • Barbara Kyle, author of The Man from Spirit Creek
Dimensions 5.5 × 0.4 × 8.5 cm

Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is an award-winning writer and documentary producer whose previous book Love in the Air: Second World War Letters was published in 2015. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Peterborough Examiner, Legion Magazine, Our Canada, as well as on CBC and Bravo Network. She has an MA in English from the University of Toronto and a Certificate in Creative Writing from Humber College. She grew up in Toronto and now lives in Peterborough, Ontario.


14 reviews for Claudette on the Keys by Joanne Culley

  1. Tina Crossfield

    “Great job… I loved it. I was sorry when I turned the last page and realized that was it!” – Faye P.

  2. Tina Crossfield

    Well written and a story of historical value. I loved it – it had all my favourite topics: travel, piano, WWII, and women. “ – Claire S.

  3. Tina Crossfield

    “I couldn’t put the book down but I did not want it to end.” – Alice M.

  4. Tina Crossfield

    “I could hardly put the book down for the next chapter.” – Ida N.

  5. Tina Crossfield

    “The book is so well-written, full of authentic characters, and needs to be on your to-be-read list.” Cathy L.

  6. Tina Crossfield

    “Joanne Culley has a lovely way of telling the story with detail and perspective. I loved the evolution of Claudette’s consciousness and confidence in such difficult years generally and for women especially.’ Joan M.

  7. Tina Crossfield

    “With a mixture of real and imagined characters, Joanne Culley provides a glimpse into the show business world of pre-war Europe through the eyes of a spunky heroine in her debut novel Claudette on the Keys.”

  8. Tina Crossfield

    Kerry Clare of 49th Shelf posted this article: “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,” writes bestseller @gengrahamauthor about Claudette on the Keys, the debut novel by Joanne Culley (@joanne.c.culley)

    In her recommended reading list (read it at the link in our profile!), Culley recommends her own favourites by Genevieve Graham, along with other historical fiction gems.

  9. Tina Crossfield

    About CLAUDETTE ON THE KEYS: Claudette on the Keys is about a female pianist who follows fortune but instead finds fascism on the rise in this tale of intrigue in pre-war times. Inspired by true events, it’s the story of Ida, whose stage name is Claudette, and her husband Harry, a Toronto-based duo-piano team, who are struggling to find employment in 1936 after being laid off from their radio show. Following a solo performance at Shea’s Theatre, where Ida performs a stellar rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” she is invited by a British talent agent to work overseas where she becomes embroiled in a scheme to get Jewish musicians out of Germany, passport problems and imprisonment. With a mixture of real and imagined characters, Culley provides a glimpse into the show business world of pre-war Europe through the eyes of a spunky heroine. A must-read for fans of Letters Across the Sea by Genevieve Graham and The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.

  10. Tina Crossfield

    Article in Business Advantage magazine, p. 44:

  11. Tina Crossfield

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *