“A song is a small bridge between the banks of a river, between two people, or two cultures. [It] is most useful when it inspires someone to plant a tree, when it becomes a subtle device of seduction, or when it becomes a lullaby. These are all little bridges.”—Gilles Vigneault
Tag Archives: Gilles Vigneault
Born: 1928, Natashquan, Quebec
Most Well-Known Songs:
- “Jos Monferrand”
- “Jack Monnoloy”
- “Mon Pays”
- “Les gens de mon pays”
- “Gens du pays”
- “Pendant que”
- “Si les bateaux”
With the soul of a poet and bearing social, political, and environmental issues close to his heart, Gilles Vigneault was one of the principal figures who sculpted Québec folk music. He began crafting verse and composing music in the 50s during his studies. He supported himself by working as a library assistant and archivist. He also served as an algebra and French teacher. At the end of the decade he founded his own publishing house to distribute his works. Singer Jacques Labrecque covered Vigneault’s first song, “Jos Monferrand”.
In the early 60s, Gilles worked as a writer and host for CBC radio and TV in Québec City. In the summer of 1960, at a music festival in the city, the audience, asked him to sing some of his songs. He sang in public for the first time which was well-received. He, thus, began singing regularly at public events. This led to the release of his debut album in 1962. For this, he was awarded the Grand prix du disque from Montréal radio station CKAC.
He wrote songs for other singers and reserved some for himself. Pauline Julien sung his song “Jack Monnoloy” which won second prize at the International Song Festival in Poland, 1964. Monique Leyrac performed his song “Mon Pays” written for the film Il a Neigé sur la Manicougan, winning first prize at the same festival the following year.
“Mon Pays” was the song that really catapulted Vigneault to superstardom, prompting the city of Montréal to dedicate a float to him (and Leyrac) during the annual St-Jean Baptiste parade. Thereafter, he began touring Canada and Europe and appeared in a number of shows including Expo ’67 in Montréal and ’70 in Osaka.
In 1970, Gilles was deeply affected by the October Crisis and wrote a number of songs about it. Four years later, he participated in the Superfrancofête show on the Plains of Abraham with fellow singers Robert Charlebois (representing the younger generation) and Félix Leclerc (representing the older generation). The outdoor concert was attended by some 130,000 people. The highlight of the concert was the three of them singing together Raymond Lévesque’s “Quand les hommes vivront d’amour”.
In the late 70s, Vigneault developed an interest in children’s music and released a few albums, one which won him an award. In the 80s he performed mostly in France. Montreal’s 350-year birthday party occurred in 1992, at which Gilles performed before an audience of 70,000. In 2005, he released his first instrumental album.
Over the years, Gilles Vigneault has received a number of honourary doctorates and won a number of awards at home and abroad. A school in Marseilles, France is named for him. His songs have been covered by scores of Canadian and European singers.
Montréal’s The Beau-Marks have been credited with releasing the first hit rock recording made entirely in Canada. The song was “Clap Your Hands” and the year was 1960. It quickly scaled the charts all the way to number one. It was also released in the U.S., Europe, and Australia where it was the 5th biggest song of the year. A French version was recorded too, called “Frappe Tes Mains”. The following year they scored a big hit with “Classmate”. The Beau-Marks differed considerably from 50s vocal ensembles The Crew-Cuts, The Diamonds, and The Four Lads in that they were a pure rock band that composed most of its own material. Unfortunately, despite incredible popularity and performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and TV’s American Bandstand, the group disbanded after releasing only three albums.
Rock bands sprang up all over Canada, perhaps most notably in Québec where rock and roll was called by the French name Yé-Yé. Music historian Richard Baillargeon noted that there were 500 yé-yé bands in the province, 50 of which had significant careers. The Mégatones kicked things off with their album Voici les Mégatones in 1962. The single “Rideau S.V.P.” became a classic.
While Canada, as a federation, was struggling to establish its own unique cultural identity in the midst of strong British and American influences, Québec was striving to define its own character within Canada. One of the most important musical figures that helped sculpt such a distinctive portrait was folk artist Gilles Vigneault.
Other big stars in Québec were folk singer Claude Gauthier (“Ton Nom” and “Le Grand Six Pieds”), Claude Léveillée, Clemence Desrochers (though better known as an actress), and Donald Lautrec. Pianist and composer André Gagnon was instrumental in accompanying and writing for many of these stars, especially Léveillée. We’ll talk more about him later. Monique Leyrac performed covers of these singers’ songs on TV, bringing them to the attention of English Canada.
Canada‘s subsequent pop stars after Paul Anka were Ginette Reno, who went on to release over 60 albums in both French and English over the years, and Canada’s next teen-idol, Bobby Curtola, who ended up releasing some 50 singles, many of which made the Top Ten. His biggest hit, “Fortune-Teller” came in 1962, selling millions of copies worldwide. Terry Black also appeared and, though less successful than Curtola, managed several hits, including “Unless You Care” and “Only Sixteen”. Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights had one of the biggest hits of the early 60s: 1963′s “Charlena”. Also big that year was Jackie Shane‘s “Any Other Way”. Shirley Matthews scored a major hit the following year—“Big Town Boy”.
Celebrated Canadian actor Lorne Greene enjoyed a brief signing career spawned by the popularity of his role as Ben Cartwright on the long-running Western television series “Bonanza”. In 1964, his hit, “Ringo” topped the charts. Another country artist in the early 60s was Lucille Star who scored several hits, some with her partner Bob Regan (the duo was dubbed The Canadian Sweethearts). Her “French Song” was the 22nd biggest hit of 1964.
Homegrown folk artists starting out in the early 60s were Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canada’s first high-profile First Nations musician, the husband-wife team of Ian & Sylvia (“Four Strong Winds”), and Canada’s polka king Walter Ostanek. Folk-pop superstar, Gordon Lightfoot, made his debut in 1962 with the hit “Remember I’m The One” and struck again five years later with “Go Go Round”. But, because his huge international success came in the 70s and the Canadian Pop Encyclopedia cites him as Canada’s most popular male vocalist during that decade, we’ll profile him later.
With the growth of Canadian music, artists from other countries began covering Canadian songs. Bonnie Dobson‘s 1961 hit “Morning Dew” was covered by Lulu in 1968. “Universal Soldier” (1964) by aforementioned Buffy Sainte-Marie was covered by Scottish artist Donovan.