Juliette Sysak was born in suburban Winnipeg to Polish-Ukrainian parents. She sang at the local Ukrainian hall and won a number of amateur singing contests before her family moved to Vancouver when she was 10. After singing at the Kitsilano Showboat, she began performing with Dal Richards's orchestra at the Hotel Vancouver at age 13, under the stage name Juliette. At 15, she made her CBC network debut on George Calangis's radio program Sophisticated Strings.
Early Radio and Television Career
After spending 1943–44 in Toronto, where she appeared on Alan Young's CBC Radio show and with Lucio Agostini's orchestra, she returned to Vancouver and sang on many other CBC Radio programs, including Burns Chuckwagon (a country music show with the Rhythm Pals), and Here's Juliette. She also appeared at Theatre Under the Stars.
She married musician Tony Cavazzi, who became her manager, and in 1954 the two moved to Toronto, where she co-starred with Gino Silvi on CBC Radio's Gino and Juliette. She was also a featured guest on CBC TV’s Holiday Ranch and a regular performer — introduced as “our pet Juliette” — on Billy O'Connor's The Late Show (1954–56).
In 1956, Juliette became host of the long-running Saturday night music variety program, Juliette (1956–66), succeeding O’Connor’s Late Show on CBC TV. It was one of the broadcaster’s most popular shows of the day, regularly ranking behind only Hockey Night in Canada and the national news in viewership. As the program followed Hockey Night in Canada, it was often shortened or extended depending on when the hockey game ended, adding an extra layer of spontaneity to the live show. The wholesome, conservative program took place on a living room set and featured Juliette beginning each episode with “Hi there, everybody” and ending it with “Goodnight, Mom.”
Juliette was joined regularly on the show by other singers. In the 1950s, she was accompanied by a male singer, who was introduced as her “escort” for the evening (George Murray, 1956–57; Roy Roberts, 1957–58; and Ken Steele, 1958–59). Later, her guests included the male vocal quartet the Romeos (1959–65) and the female vocal group the Four Mice (1960–64). The show's music directors were, successively, Bobby Gimby (1956–59), Bill Isbister (1959–65) and Lucio Agostini (1965–66).
Of Juliette's popularity, Antony Ferry wrote in the Toronto Daily Star: “Her specialty is being ‘just folks’... In a pop medium bedecked with tinsel and phony charm, Juliette retains at least the illusion of old home-body simplicity.” The Montreal Gazette added that, “Our Pet Juliette represents the last word in a plain, uncluttered, ordinary performing style — cheerful, happy ordinariness.”
Despite her popularity with the public, Juliette generally received little love from critics, who typically dismissed her as bland. The Globe and Mail’s television critic, Dennis Braithwaite, wrote in 1965 that her show exhibited “an unexciting format, uninspired production, bad writing, unglamorous costuming and a drab image of wholesomeness.” Her show was still ranked in the Top 10 when it fell prey to a new CBC ratings system and was cancelled in 1966.
After appearing in a number of TV and radio specials, Juliette hosted the CBC TV talk shows After Noon (1969–71) and Juliette and Friends (1973–75). She began winding down her career in the 1980s, retiring to Vancouver and performing at occasional benefits and nostalgia shows. As of 1999 she was still singing regularly with the Dal Richards orchestra in Vancouver.
Juliette recorded two 78s for RCA's “X” label and one with the Rhythm Pals for Aragon in the early 1950s. She later made three LPs for RCA Camden: Juliette (1968), Juliette’s Christmas World (1968) and Juliette’s Country World (1969). She also appeared on a recording of Dolores Claman's musical comedy Timber! (1954) and the compilation album The Saga of Canadian Country and Folk Music (1972).
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
Member, Order of Canada (1975)
Inductee, BC Entertainment Hall of Fame (1994)
Inductee, Canada’s Walk of Fame (1999)