@ 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
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 in ‘63).
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 successful.
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 Mediterranean
The following year Gréco would marry again, wedding Gérard
Jouannest, her composer, pianist and musical arranger of many years’
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 and musicians.
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 concert performances).
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
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
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
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.