French Music Hall
These programs include recordings from the 30s and 40s, with stars such as Arletty, Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Frehel, Jean Gabin, Lys Gauty, Rina Ketty, Mistinguett, Edith Piaf, and Berthe Sylva. Please write to me with comments, especially suggestions for other artists.
Here’s a radiola show with our selections of this music.
Chanteurs.com has a radio stream that you can listen to here, on their site, or on iTunes. It has some great, rare recordings but will occasionally slip in a disco tune. But it’s all French, it’s all good.
Some details about the Chanteurs of the 1930s:
|Arletty IMDB.com A secretary, Arlette-Leonie Bathiat posed several times as a model for different painters and photographers. In 1920 she debuted on stage at a theatre. She began to work in movies in 1930, illuminating the screen with an unusual mixture of Parisian working-class sense of humour and romantic beauty. After World War II she was condemned to prison for having been the lover of a German official during the ocupation of France, though she did return to her film career. In 1963 she had an accident which left her almost blind. Her most important movies were filmed and directed by Marcel Carné — “Hotel du Nord (1938)” and “Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)”.
Josephine Baker artistdirect.com Born into poverty in St. Louis, dancer and singer Josephine Baker progressed from vaudeville to New York theater to the Parisian cabaret scene and became the toast of Europe before the age of 21. Though her later career wasn’t quite able to handle such an early peak, Baker spent much of her life working tirelessly against prejudice, during World War II in Europe and the civil-rights era in America. She’s still one of the most famous expatriates in American history, perfectly epitomizing the hedonistic abandon of the Jazz Age in Paris.
Maurice Chevalier artistdirect.com Among the most beloved song-and-dance men of the pre-war era. Born September 12, 1888 in Paris, he turned to singing in Parisian cafes and music halls; although his voice lacked power, he compensated with his fine comedic skills, and before long was among the most popular performers in France, often partnering with the infamous Minstinguett in the Folies-Bergere. In 1925 he introduced “Valentine,” one of the songs with which he remained identified for the duration of his career. Upon learning of the advent of motion picture sound, Chevalier relocated to Hollywood in 1928; a year later he made his American debut in Innocents of Paris, which popularized his song “Louise.” He next appeared opposite Jeanette MacDonald in Ernst Lubitsch’s hit The Love Parade, a role which earned him an Academy Award nomination in the Best Actor category. Chevalier and MacDonald made a total of four films together, the most successful of them Rouben Mamoulian’s 1932 effort Love Me Tonight, which included several original compositions by Rodgers & Hart, among them “Mimi” and “Isn’t It Romantic.”
In her teens she got a break when she met one of the female music-hall performers who heard her sing and introduced her to show business promoters. She began performing under the stage name “Pervenche.” Following her failed suicide attempt, in 1911 Marguerite Boulc’h tried to escape her pain and travelled to Bucharest, Turkey and then to Russia where she remained for more than ten years. Lost in a world of alcohol and drugs, she returned to Paris in 1923 to a shocked public that saw the wasted shadow of the singer they had known and loved. She then signalled a new beginning by switching to the stage name “Fréhel”, taking the name from Cap Fréhel in Brittany where her parents had been born. Singing as Fréhel, at the Paris Olympia in 1924 she recaptured the former magic with a powerful performance and was soon headlining at the most popular venues in the country.
In the 1930s, she appeared in several motion pictures, almost always portraying a singer in a minor or supporting role. The most notable films in which she performed were 1931’s De Coeur des Lilas, based on the Tristan Bernard play, and Pépé le Moko that starred Jean Gabin. While her alcohol abuse continued, she nevertheless was a major show business force of 1930s France. Of all her songs, her 1939 “La Java Bleue”, with music by Vincent Scotto, proved her most popular.
Despite being one of Europe’s most sought after performers, her destructive addictions led to her dropping out of sight.
Jean Gabin allmusic.com The most popular French actor of the pre-war era, Jean Gabin was the essence of world-weary stoicism; a classic anti-hero, his characters ran the gamut of society’s victims and losers, outsiders damaged by life and with no hope of survival. The son of professional cabaret performers, and raised by relatives in the country, after World War I Gabin was apprenticed to a Parisian construction company before deciding to follow in his parents’ footsteps, struggling as a performer for several years before finally entering the military. Upon his discharge he appeared in a series of musical revues, followed in 1926 by a pair of operettas, La Dame en Decolette and Trois Jeunes Filles Nues. He also toured South America, and upon returning to France signed on with the Moulin Rouge. Gabin’s career began picking up steam through his varied theatrical and music hall performances, and after rejecting a contract offer from a German film company he signed with Pathé-Natan, making his screen debut in 1930’s Chacun sa Chance.
Lys Gauty Rina Ketty
Mistinguett Parisian music-hall was cafe-concert gone upmarket, and during the 1920s Mistinguett (far more than Josephine Baker) was its queen. No recording can do justice to a star as much dancer and sheer phenomenon as singer ‹ but singer she was: of “Mon Homme”; of comedy duets and cabaret songs and everything that can stand for the City of Light when it was the world’s cultural capital. She “discovered” Maurice Chevalier, she “discovered” Jean Gabin. She was a scandal and a delight. ‹ John Storm Roberts, Original Music
Edith Piaf artistdirect.comProbably the most popular French singer ever due to her chansons performed with passion and force, Edith Piaf’s inimitable voice conquered millions of listeners during several decades. Some of the songs she wrote herself (“La vie en rose,” “L’hymne a l’amour”), the others were the results of her long-time collaboration with such composers as R. Asso (“Mon Legionnaire”), Georges Moustaki (“Milord”) and Charles Dumont (“Non, je ne regrette rien”). She was often affectionately called ‘Sparrow of Paris’ (‘Piaf’ means ‘sparrow’ in French). ~ Yuri German, All Music Guide