Kreyolicious Interview: Herby Widmaier, Music and Broadcasting Legend, Part 1

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Herby Widmaier Haiti
When asked how he wants to be remembered, Haitian music and broadcasting legend Herbert “Herby” Widmaier doesn’t have to ponder the question for too long. “I want to be remembered as a good guy—that’s all,” says Herby Widmaier during a conversation with Kreyolicious. “I’ve been nice so far with everybody. I guess my women could say so. I’ve been nice to them. And I loved them. I loved them very much.”

Love is a Widmaier trait. From women to music, his love ran–and runs—abundant. And then, there’s radio. Widmaier is the founder of Radio Metropole, launched in his hometown Port-au-Prince in the 1970s. “It was the great realization of my life,” he reflects. “I played so many roles. I was announcer, program director. I was a technician. I put up the radio station with a good friend of mine, Roland Dupoux. He’s still with us as an engineer—a technician.” Besides Dupoux, Widmaier says another friend named Bob Lemoine, played a key role in the launch of the radio.

To some observers, such as Ralph Boncy, Widmaier is someone to admire. “As a modernist and visionary technician, he introduced both FM radio and twenty-four hour-around the clock broadcasting in Haiti,” Boncy attests. “[He] recorded tons of records for Haitian bands in the early 60s—including Orchestre Septentrional”.

From his statement about the women he’s loved, Widmaier is clearly the sentimental type. But surely, he’s also an astute business man. Observers living in Haiti during Radio Metropole’s early days, say that under his management (he retired six years ago), Radio Metropole changed the concept of publicity and advertising in Haiti. “He’s a true pioneer of modern radio jingle producing and recording for radio identificating and advertising,” adds Boncy. “He has a great voice, a deep voice. He was a singer for Issa El Saieh’s famous big band in the 1940s. He’s also an initiator of jazz education and promotion in Haiti through his vocal arrangements and his radio show which ran from 10 to 11 a.m. Monday to Friday.”

“It was a very popular show, featuring American pop music, bossa nova, and all sorts of music,” recalls Widmaier.

If Widmaier was an able radio mogul, he had a great model to follow. His father Ricardo Widmaier was one of Haiti’s radio pioneers, launching HH3W in 1935—which became Radio Haiti—in the 1940s, and later became 4VRW. Little Herbert was practically raised inside the radio station. “I was a hand radio operator,” he recalls. “I started building my first transmitter when I was 15, 16 years old. I was with my father, who was himself a technician. I learned a lot from him—from books.”
Herby Widmaier
Above: Herby Widmaier poses with his fiancée Micheline Lafontant on the day of his engagement.

Unlike other children of Haiti’s elite, he didn’t attend an exclusive English-only school. He learned English by listening to broadcasts in English. This came rather handy, as the radio manuals that were sent his way were from US publishers and written in English.

Herby Widmaier and the Starlets

At 15, Herbert Widmaier recalls being a lonely young man. His father had divorced his mother when he was four years old, and his mother had shown preference for his sister Gilda. At 21, he married a young woman named Micheline Lafontant, with whom he eventually had three sons. He was at this point, a very well-known singer in Haiti, fronting his own band—Herby Widmaier et Les Starlets. The band regrouped several times. Regulars included Yolande Toussaint, Joachin, Levy, Lucky Grant, Fritz Lubin, Jean-Claude Gabriel, Raymond Duseck, Josette “Gigi” Bordes, Jacques Belizaire, Gerard Dupervil. Gigging musicians included Ferdinand Dor, Serge Chaumette, Menuau Lamy, Edgner Guignard.

The band would change his life, and not just professionally either.
Herby Widmaier Musical Studio
Above: Widmaier (leaning in the far right) during a musical session with fellow musicians in a studio. From right to left: Gerald Merceron, a very well-known Haitian composer/musician, and Brazilian composer and orchestra leader-arranger Eumir Deodato (seated)

At one point, Widmaier wanted to bring in another female voice to complete The Starlets’ harmonic structure, and asked current member Josette for recommendations. Josette introduced Widmaier to a young woman named Madeleine Gousse.

Widmaier found himself head-over-heels in love with Madeleine. His wife found out about the affair, but never sought a divorce. Widmaier’s love affair with Madeleine would eventually lead to the birth of another child—a son—they named Mushi.”We loved each other to the very end,” he says, of Gousse’s death more three years ago.

Herby Widmaier Photo

Looking back at his life, Widmaier says that one of his biggest sources of satisfaction are his kids. Richard, his eldest, is the CEO of Tele Metropole, and Radio Metropole. Boncy says that Widmaier’s sons have continued on their father’s musical legacy. “They founded The Widmaiers—a teenage konpa band—in 1971, then The Widmaier Brothers—a mostly a jazz-rock fusion collective—circa 1978, then Zeklè and Lakansyèl from 1982-1983. Herby is a major influence on them all.”

And it can be said, on Haitian music as a whole.

[Photo Credit: Herbert Widmaier Collection ]

Thank you for reading PART I of the interview with Haitian music and broadcasting legend. Watch out for Part II.

CLICK HERE to read interview with other Haitian Music Legends.

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