@ the Royal Festival Hall
21 November 2010
Click an image to enlarge.
Juliette Gréco was born in Montpellier,
in the South of France, on 7 February 1927. Gréco’s
father, who was born in Corsica, worked as a policeman on the Côte
d’Azur, but she rarely saw him in her childhood as she and
her elder sister Charlotte were brought up by their maternal grandparents
who lived in Bordeaux. Gréco, who was educated by nuns in
an extremely strict convent school, grew up to be a rather shy child
given to spending long periods of time on her own.
In 1933 Juliette's mother joined her daughters
in Bordeaux and shortly afterwards all three of them would head
off for Paris. Gréco’s life would change dramatically
in the French capital. After the rather austere atmosphere of the
convent, Gréco discovered a world of bright lights, fashion
and culture. She would take up dance classes, throwing herself into
her new hobby with a passion, and soon went on to join the Paris
Opera where she began training her voice.
In 1939, Gréco’s idyllic life in Paris
was shattered by the outbreak of the Second World War. The Grécos
were forced to return to the South West of France where they lived
in rented accommodation in the Dordogne. Juliette Gréco’s
mother would soon become an active member of the Resistance in Dordogne,
but her Resistance work was brought to an abrupt halt when Gestapo
officers arrested her in 1943. Juliette and Charlotte immediately
fled the family home and returned to Paris, but they would soon
be arrested and sent to prison by the Gestapo. Shortly after their
arrest Charlotte and her mother were deported to a prison camp -
Juliette, being only 16, was allowed to stay in France.
Released from prison, Gréco found herself
alone and penniless on the streets of Paris. Luckily Gréco’s
French teacher (the actress Hélène Duc) would come
to the young girl’s rescue, offering her a temporary home.
Gréco would thus spend the rest of the war years living in
Paris where she soon discovered the exciting world of theatre. Encouraged
by her teacher Hélène Duc, Gréco enrolled in
drama classes and soon went on to land several walk-on parts at
the Comédie française.
Meanwhile, in the late war years Gréco began
hanging out in cafés on the Left Bank, exploring the rich
intellectual and Bohemian life of the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
The idealistic teenager would also begin to take an active interest
in politics, attending Young Communist meetings and conducting earnest
political discussions with her friends in the Latin Quarter’s
Gréco’s mother and sister were released
from prison camp at the end of the war and in 1945 the family returned
to live in the South West of France. But shortly after their arrival
in the Dordogne the girls’ mother decided to enlist in the
navy, so Gréco and Charlotte headed back to Paris. Gréco
would soon throw herself back into Bohemian lifestyle of the Latin
Quarter, hanging out with the poets, musicians, writers and painters
who held regular meetings in the smoke-filled cafés around
the Saint-Germain church. Living in a small room in a local hotel
and earning a living from a series of odd jobs, Gréco would
nevertheless begin to move in hallowed circles, becoming acquainted
with the likes of Sartre and Camus as well as the legendary American
writers and jazz musicians who formed part of Saint Germain’s
rich cultural life. With her striking Bohemian looks and her wild,
rebellious nature, Gréco soon became a major figure on the
Saint Germain scene herself. And the network of contacts she made
in the Latin Quarter cafés would help her land a series of
minor roles in French theatre as well as getting her work on a national
radio programme devoted to poetry.
After five long years of war and deprivation Paris
was in full effervescence, and Gréco soon joined the groups
of young night-owls who would stay out till dawn, smoking and drinking
in Saint Germain’s atmospheric jazz clubs and cabarets. In
1947 a new club called Le Tabou opened its doors on the rue Dauphine
- this smoke-filled dive was to become a veritable legend on the
Saint Germain scene, providing a meeting-point for young bohemians,
as well as a host of famous musicians and artists. Boris Vian was
a regular at Le Tabou, as were Jean Cocteau and the legendary jazz
trumpet-player Miles Davis. Needless to say, Juliette Gréco
also made it her local haunt. Her face would soon begin appearing
on countless magazine covers, accompanying articles documenting
the new 'Bohemian' craze sweeping through post-war Paris.
Encouraged by a group of young Bohemians and her
close friend Anne-Marie Cazalis, Juliette Gréco soon decided
to take advantage of her new-found fame and launch a singing career.
In 1949 Gréco made her public début at ‘Le Bœuf
sur le Toit’, another legendary Bohemian venue hosting music
and poetry events. Gréco had no trouble finding material
to perform at her first concert - a host of famous French writers
and poets immediately offered their services. Raymond Queneau penned
her the extraordinary “Si tu t'imagines”, Jules Lafforgue
wrote Juliette “L'Eternel feminine” while Jacques Prévert
gave the singer his classic “Les feuilles mortes”. (Gréco
would enlist the aid of Joseph Kosma to set these texts to music).
Gréco’s style which fused intellectual
intensity with undercurrents of playful sensuality, proved an enormous
hit with Saint Germain’s new Bohemians. But it proved decidedly
less successful with the general public, who found the young singer’s
repertoire rather difficult compared with the popular melodrama
of stars such as Edith Piaf. But Juliette Gréco would gradually
gain a higher profile after starring in Cocteau's film “Orphée”
Two years later Juliette Gréco would go
into the studio to record her début single “Je suis
comme je suis” (‘I Am What I Am” - the title says
it all !) This song, written by Jacques Prévert and set to
music by Joseph Kosma, would go on to become an absolute classic
of the Gréco repertoire. Following the release of her first
single, Gréco would perform a series of concerts in Brazil
and then head off to America where, in 1952, she proved a huge success
in the show “April in Paris”. On her return from the
States, Gréco would embark upon an extensive tour of France,
and this time round her new -style chanson and mysterious dark looks
would prove a major hit with the public. The singer went on to triumph
at the legendary Olympia music-hall in Paris in 1954. Later that
same year Gréco was honoured by the SACEM (the French Association
of Songwriters and Composers) who awarded the singer their prestigious
“Grand prix” for her song “Je hais les dimanches”
(written by Florence Véran and Charles Aznavour).
1954 would also prove to be a memorable year in
Gréco personal life - for it was in 1954, while working on
Jean-Pierre Melville's film “Quand tu liras cette letter”,
that the singer met her future husband, the French actor Philippe
Lemaire. (The couple’s marriage would not last long, however.
Gréco and Lemaire would get divorced in 1956, shortly after
the birth of their daughter, Laurence-Marie).
Ideas of Freedom
Meanwhile, Juliette Gréco’s career
began to branch out in several directions at once. While her singing
career continued to go from strength to strength on the international
music scene, the multi-talented performer was also becoming a much
sought-after actress in the film and theatre world. Indeed, after
a series of highly successful shows in New York, Gréco was
inundated by offers from Hollywood - and the young French star would
soon go on to work with the likes of Henri King, John Huston and
Orson Welles! Shortly after her arrival in Hollywood, Gréco
would begin going out with the powerful American film producer Darryl
Zanuck. (But this relationship proved to be as short-lived as Gréco’s
previous marriage to Lemaire. Zanuck's driving ambition would soon
begin to clash with Gréco’s rebellious spirit which
thrived on ideas of freedom).
After her relationship with Zanuck came to an end,
Juliette Gréco returned to France where she soon met up with
Serge Gainsbourg, a young singer/songwriter who had recently embarked
upon a one-man mission to revolutionise French chanson. Impressed
by Gainsbourg's radical new style, Juliette Gréco invited
the young up-and-coming star to write for her and between 1959 and
1963 Gainsbourg would pen Gréco several major hits including
the legendary “La Javanaise” (which Gréco recorded
After devoting most of the 1950’s to her
film career, Gréco would turn her attention to her singing
career over the next decade. Gréco would make her mark on
the French music scene in the 60's with major hits such as Guy Béart's
“Il n'y a plus d'après” (which the singer recorded
in 1960) and Léo Ferré's “Jolie Môme”
(in 1961). Later that same year Gréco would triumph at the
Bobino in Paris, thousands of fans turning out to see her in concert.
Gréco’s run at the Olympia in 1962 would prove equally
By the mid-60’s Juliette Gréco had
become one of the best-known faces in French showbiz, thanks to
her role in the famous French television series “Belphégor”
(which she began filming in 1965). Yet, in spite of her brilliant
career and increasing international fame, Juliette Gréco
underwent a serious depression around this time and the singer would
attempt to commit suicide later that year.
1965 would end on a happier note, however. In September
of that year, Gréco, by now fully recovered from her recent
depression, married fellow French actor Michel Piccoli.
By the following year Gréco’s singing
career was back in full swing. Indeed, the singer would go on to
give a triumphant performance at the TNP (the Théâtre
National de Paris) with her all-time idol Georges Brassens - Gréco
had already recorded Brassens's legendary “Chanson pour l'auvergnat”
in the 1950’s. In 1967 Gréco would go on to cover another
French chanson classic, recording her own version of Jacques Brel’s
“La chanson des vieux amants”.
In 1967 Gréco would perform a series of
highly successful concerts in Berlin, singing to audiences of 60,000.
The French star would then go on to repeat this success worldwide,
thousands of fans flocking to see Gréco on her international
tours. Gréco’s stylish stage shows in which the singer,
wearing an elegant black dress, appeared backlit against a sumptuous
red velvet curtain drew gasps of admiration from the audience while
the singer's superbly expressive face and theatrical gestures held
them completely enthralled.
When Gréco returned from her busy round
of international tours, she would score another triumph in Paris
in 1968, introducing the idea of 6.30pm concerts at the Théâtre
de la Ville. It was during her early evening performances at the
Théâtre de la Ville that Gréco premièred
“Déshabillez-moi”, one of the most famous songs
of her entire career. (“Déshabillez-moi” –
“Undress Me” - would throw off Gréco’s
rather ‘intellectual’ image, bringing her sensual side
to the fore).
In the early 70’s Gréco would leave
the Philips label to sign a new recording deal with Barclay. The
singer would then undergo a period of general instability, swapping
between several labels (before finally signing a new deal with Polygram
in the 90’s). This instability reflected a certain slowing-down
of Gréco’s career in the early 70’s. The singer
would soon make a major comeback, however, giving a triumphant performance
in Paris at the Théâtre de la Ville in 1975. The following
year Gréco would return to the studio to record a new album.
It was around this time that the singer would embark upon a highly
successful collaboration with Gérard Jouannest. After working
for many long years with the legendary Belgian star Jacques Brel,
Jouannest would go on to become Gréco’s pianist as
well as her principle musical arranger. Meanwhile, Gréco
continued in the style that had made her famous, singing ‘literary’
songs written by famous poets such as Pierre Seghers (who wrote
Gréco’s 1975 hit “Les voyous”) and Henri
Gougaud (who penned “Le Merle blanc” later that year).
Gréco would also remain loyal to her favourite songwriters,
recording work by Serge Gainsbourg (“Le 6ème sens”
in 1970) and Jacques Brel (“J'arrive” in 1970).
Gréco Makes a Stand
In spite of her international star status, Juliette
Gréco would remain true to the political ideals of her early
days. Indeed, the singer would seize every opportunity to speak
out against oppression and use her fame to defend human rights’
causes. One of the most famous instances of Gréco’s
political outspokenness was when the French star performed a concert
in Chili while the country was still under the military dictatorship
of General Pinochet. Taking to the stage in Santiago to confront
an audience made up of soldiers and top-ranking generals, Gréco
would launch into a repertoire of openly anti-military songs. The
performance proved to be a complete fiasco and Gréco was
practically booed off stage - but the singer was immensely proud
of her personal act of resistance.
Juliette Gréco would return to the media
spotlight in 1982 with the publication of her autobiography, “Jujube”.
On October of the following year the singer would make an impressive
comeback at the Espace Cardin in Paris, her concert drawing a huge
crowd of devoted fans. The concert would be swiftly followed by
a brand new album, entitled simply “Gréco 83”.
The album “Gréco 83” would feature a new selection
of ‘literary’ songs, including lyrics written by the
French author Georges Coulonges, the poet Pierre Seghers, and legendary
songwriters such as Jean Ferrat, Claude Lemesle and Boris Vian.
(Most of the musical arrangements were the work of Gréco’s
loyal pianist Gérard Jouannest).
Following the release of her new album Juliette
Gréco set off on another round of international tours, playing
dates in dozens of different countries. The singer would not neglect
her French fans either. In 1988 Gréco performed in Paris
at the Café de la Danse, as part of a music festival celebrating
The following year Gréco would marry again,
wedding Gérard Jouannest, her composer, pianist and musical
arranger of many years’ standing.
In the 1990’s Juliette Gréco made
another triumphant comeback, performing her first major French concert
of seven years at the Olympia (8 - 20 January 1991). In April 1991
the Printemps de Bourges paid tribute to Gréco, inviting
the singer to perform as the festival’s special guest star.
When Gréco appeared at the Printemps de Bourges, however,
she would perform just four songs - suffering from a severe malaise
and on the verge of fainting Gréco would be obliged to leave
the stage before the end of her set. Disappointed fans were assured
that their tickets would be valid for next year’s festival
and they flocked back to see Gréco perform at Bourges on
27 April 1992.
By the following year Gréco was back at
work in the studio again, putting the finishing touches to a new
album. Released in 1993, this album featured contributions from
a host of top international names including the famous French songwriter
Etienne Roda-Gil, singer Julien Clerc and Brazilian stars Caetano
Veloso and Joao Bosco. While remaining loyal to the tradition of
French chanson, Gréco was also open to modern influences
and she would give a helping hand to several up-and-coming songwriters
Millions of Poems
Following the success of her new album, Gréco
turned her attention to her live shows, performing at the Olympia
between October 12th and 24th. The singer would then set off upon
an extensive national tour before flying out to Japan in the spring
of ‘94. (Gréco, who was a great fan of Japanese culture,
would frequently return to the Land of the Rising Sun to give numerous
Three years later Gréco was back in the
media spotlight again. In June 1997 the singer, who was always eager
to get involved with innovative new projects, flew down to the South
of France for a special one-off concert. Invited to sing at the
internationally-renowned Photography Festival in Arles, Gréco
gave the performance of a lifetime, singing in an open-air amphitheatre
while a series of black-and-white photos were projected onto the
ruins behind her.
In the autumn of 98 Gréco returned to the
forefront of the French music scene with a new album entitled “Un
jour d'été et quelques nuits”. The songs on
the chanson star's new album were written by Jean-Claude Carrière,
while Gérard Jouannest looked after the musical arrangements.
In May 1999 Juliette Gréco was invited to
perform at the “Festival de musique vivante” in Montauban,
where she appeared as the festival's special guest star. Later that
same month the legendary chanson star took to the stage of Le Théâtre
de l'Odéon in Paris (25-30 May), performing a series of highly
popular concerts. At the end of the summer of '99 French Culture
Minister Catherine Trautmann presented Juliette Gréco with
the “Ordre National du Mérite”.
In September Juliette Gréco brought the
house down at the “Fête de l'Humanité”
(the annual Communist festival held in Paris), then a few days later
she flew out to perform in New York. Needless to say, the legendary
French star brought the house down at her two New York shows organised
by the Alliance Française.
The French star kept up a hectic tour schedule
throughout 2000, performing concerts in France, Switzerland and
Germany. She flew out for a concert in Lisbon in January 2001 and
headed out to Norway a few months later in May. But Ms. Gréco
was obliged to slow down her hectic schedule later that year, after
being troubled by heart problems during a performance in Montpellier
in late May. The singer made a rapid recovery, however, and doctors
declared her fit enough to undertake an extensive tour of Canada
in the summer of 2001.
In November 2003, La Gréco re-emerged on
the French music scene with a new album entitled “Aimez-vous
les uns les autres, ou bien disparaissez” (Love One Another
Or Disappear!) Loyal to her old favourites, the ‘grande dame
of French chanson’ recorded a new version of the Serge Gainsbourg
song “Un peu moins que tout à l'heure” (which
she had originally recorded in 1971). Her new album also included
songs by Jean-Claude Carrière (songwriter on the 1998 album
“Un jour d'été et quelques nuits”) and
the late French poet Louis Aragon (“La Rose et le réséda”
set to music by Bernard Lavilliers).
Gréco, who has always displayed a certain
flair for unearthing quality lyrics and compositions, also recorded
“Je jouais sur un banc”(a song specially written for
her by Gérard Manset) and “Pour vous aimer” (a
song co-written by French novelist Marie Nimier and the 1990 Goncourt
winner Jean Rouaud set to music by Art Mengo). Gréco also
used a number of hot new talents from the ‘new French chanson’
scene including Christophe Miossec (who penned the lyrics for three
songs set to music by Gérard Jouannest) and Benjamin Biolay
(who contributed five songs, three of which were composed by Jouannest).
Despite being in her 70s, Gréco showed no
sign of flagging on the concert circuit. In November 2003, she took
to the stage at the Casino de Paris and in February 2004 went on
to bring the house down at another legendary Paris venue, the Olympia.
The French leg of her tour also took the singer to a number of other
French towns including Bordeaux and Amiens. As for the international
leg of the tour, this included concerts in Belgium and Japan (where
Gréco has a loyal following of fans). Gréco returned
to the Casino de Paris for a mini-series of shows (16 - 18 November
The double CD/DVD “Olympia 2004,” released
at the end of 2004, proves that the legendary wit and energy of
the sprightly 77-year-old are still firmly intact!
In a famous description of Juliette Gréco
Sartre once wrote that the singer’s voice “encompasses
millions of poems”. This phrase would prove to be quite literally
true - for few singers besides Gréco ever performed such
a vast number of famous literary texts! Gréco, who spearheaded
Paris's Bohemian and intellectual revival in the post-war years,
went on to make these literary and poetic texts internationally
famous. Meanwhile the singer’s mysterious dark beauty and
her intense, sensual voice have earned her an impressive following
of fans worldwide.