Born in Montreal, Quebec, Daunais studied singing with Céline Marier and harmony and composition with Oscar O’Brien. In 1923 he won first prize at the Montreal Musical Festival. He made his professional opera debut in January 1926 as Ourrias in Charles Gounod‘s Mireille at the Orpheum in Vancouver. The following March he gave his first recital at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Daunais was also awarded the Prix d’Europe in 1926 which provided him with the opportunity to pursue studies in Paris with Émile Marcellin at the Opéra-Comique. In 1929 he joined the roster of principal artists at the Opera of Algiers. With that company he sang several leading roles, including Escamillo in Carmen, Figaro in The Barber of Seville, Giorgio Germont in La traviata, Lescaut in Manon, and Valentin in Faust.
Upon his return to Canada in 1930, Daunais performed with the Bytown Troubadours at the third annual CPR Festivals in Quebec City. At the festival he also portrayed Samuel de Champlain in Healey Willan‘s The Order of Good Cheer. Later that year he made his debut with the Société canadienne d’opérette in Montreal as Clément Marot in André Messager‘s La Basoche. He performed frequently with that company through 1935.
In 1932 Daunais founded the Trio lyrique (TL) whose original members also included contraltoAnna Malenfant and tenorLudovic Huot. Jules Jacob replaced Huot in the early 1940s. Daunais recruited pianist and composer Allan McIver to serve as the group’s accompanist and arranger. All of the arrangements performed during the TL’s performance history were by McIver, including arrangements of many of Daunais’s compositions.
In 1933 the TL was engaged by CRBC for its network series One Hour with You, on which the group performed for 87 weeks. In the 1934 the TL released the LP albumChansons de Lionel Daunais for Radio Canada International. In 1936 the group performed for the CBS radio network in New York where McIver was also engaged as a staff arranger. The TL continued to perform actively in public concerts and on CBC Radio programs like The Play of the Week, Light Up and Listen. and Serenade for Strings up until the mid-1960s when it disbanded. The group re-united briefly in the autumn of 1971 for CBC broadcasts honoring Daunais and his work. In 1984 the album Le Trio lyrique chante Lionel Daunais was released; containing music from the ensemble’s many radio broadcasts.