French Singer-Songwriter Becaud, ''Mr 100,000 Volts'', Dies
French singer-songwriter Gilbert Becaud, who penned more than 400 songs during a career that lasted nearly half a century, died Tuesday as an extraordinarily beloved interpreter of the traditional French "chanson."
He died at age 74 on his Paris houseboat after a long battle with cancer, friends and family said.
Becaud, who wrote songs for Edith Piaf before embarking on a career that lasted nearly half a century, was a legend in France, always appearing at his piano in his customary navy blue suit, white shirt and polka-dotted tie.
French President Jacques Chirac said Becaud, whose nickname was "Mr 100,000 Volts" had one of the strongest and most stirring voices of our time, while entertainer Charles Aznavour hailed the singer's "optimism and spirit."
The singer had a string of 20 hits on French charts. "Et maintenant" was recorded in English as "What Now My Love" by dozens of artists, including Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand.
"His spirit and his extraordinary optimism, along with his desire to shake up the world of the chanson struck me from the first moment I met him," Aznavour said.
Chirac paid homage to "one of the most talented ambassadors" of the French chanson," calling him in a statement "generous, enthusiastic and warm."
Chanson, is a traditional French form of song with a strong emphasis on poetry and romanticsm.
As news of his death broke early Tuesday around the capital, the French gathered in front of shop windows to mourn the passing of Becaud and hum a few bars of some of his more famous tunes.
He was best known for romantic and sentimental songs, such as "L'important c'est la rose" ("What's important is the rose") and "Nathalie".
Becaud earned the nickname "Mr 100,000 Volts" because during his first appearance in 1954 at the legendary Paris Olympia theater the audience was so electrified by his performance they smashed many of the wooden chairs.
Becaud, whose real name was Francois Gilbert Silly, was born on October 24, 1927 in Toulon on the French Mediterranean coast.
He began by studying piano at the music conservatories in Nice and Toulon before embarking on a career as a singer and writer when he moved to Paris after World War II.
He soon became the accompanist of French singer Jacques Pills in nightclubs around the capital. That proved to be a turning point for Becaud, as Pills later married none other than the singer Edith Piaf.
Becaud, one of the most beloved masters of the French chanson, never attained the fame and international recognition of his contemporaries Aznavour, Yves Montand or Charles Trenet, who himself died earlier this year.
He made more than 30 appearances at the Olympia in central Paris, and was chosen to inaugurate the theater when it re-opened after a complete renovation in 1997.
His last album, entitled "Faut faire avec" (Have to Make Do), was released in 1999. A much more serious recording, the songs on it reflected his fight against cancer, which he had already conquered once before, beating back cancer of the jaw several years ago.
"A giant of the French chanson has left us," singer Mireille Mathieu said. "He was in love with his job, which gave him lots of joy." -- AFP
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