December 18, 2001 – Gilbert Bécaud was born François Silly in Toulon France on October 24, 1927 and became one of France’s most beloved and successful singer, composer and actor. He learned to play the piano at a young age, and then went to the Conservatoire in Nice.
In 1942, not even 16 years old, he left school to join the French Resistance during WorldWar II.
He began songwriting in 1948, after meeting Maurice Vidalin, who inspired him to write his early compositions. He began writing for Marie Bizet; Bécaud, Bizet and Vidalin became a successful trio, and their partnership lasted until 1950.
While touring with Jacques Pills as a pianist, Bécaud met Édith Piaf, the wife of Jacques Pills at the time. He began singing at her suggestion in 1953, with “Mes Mains” and “Les Croix”. His first performance came a year later. His hits in the later part of the decade included La Corrida (1956), Le Jour où la Pluie Viendra (1957) and C’est Merveilleux L’amour(1958).
His first hit in the English-speaking world was Jane Morgan’s cover version of “Le Jour où la Pluie Viendra” (as “The Days the Rains Came”, with English lyrics by Carl Sigman) in 1958. He began acting in the same period, starting with “Le Pays D’où Je Viens” (1956). In 1960, he won a Grand Prix du Disque and composed L’enfant à L’étoile, a Christmas cantata. That same year, Let It Be Me, an English version of his Je t’appartiens, became a hit for the Everly Brothers, followed, over the years, by Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Jerry Butler, Sam & Dave and James Brown.
To underscore his enormous talent, Bécaud wrote and recorded “Et Maintenant” in 1961, one of the biggest selling singles in French history. Translated as “What Now My Love”, the song became a hit by Shirley Bassey, Sonny & Cher, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Andy Williams, Herb Alpert and Frank Sinatra. He also co-wrote “Love on the Rocks” with Neil Diamond, which was featured on the soundtrack of The Jazz Singer and was an international hit. In addition, he co-wrote “September Morn” with Neil Diamond. Marlene Dietrich recorded his “Marie, Marie” and performed it in her stage shows.
On stage he became known as “Monsieur 100,000 Volts” for his energetic performances. He wrote around 450 songs and from the 1970s on preferred touring over recording. My personal favorite, which strangely enough is barely mentioned and not covered on the Wikipedia entry, is the song Nathalie about a female guide showing him Moscov in the early days of the Cold War. The promotional video was shot mostly on Red Square (la place rouge) in 1963.
He sadly died from cancer on his houseboat on the Seine River in Paris on Dec 18, 2001 at the age of 74.