Charles Trenet

From Academic Kids

Charles Trenet (May 18, 1913, Narbonne, FranceFebruary 19, 2001, Créteil, France) was a French singer and songwriter.


Early life

At the age of seven Charles was sent to boarding school in Béziers, but he returned home just a few months later, suffering from typhoid fever. It was during his convalescence at home that he developed his artistic talents, taking up music, painting and scultping. In 1922 the Trenet family moved to Perpignan this time as a day pupil. He hated maths with a passion but passed his "baccalauréat" with flying colours in 1927. After leaving school he left for Berlin where he studied art.

When Trenet first arrived in Paris in the 1930s, he worked in a movie studio as a props handler and assistant, and later joined up with the artists in the Montparnasse neighbourhood.

He worked with pianist Johnny Hess. They performed at the cabaret called Le Fiacre until 1936 when Trenet was called up for national service. It was after his national service that Trenet received the nickname that he would retain all his life: "Le fou chantant" (the singing fool).

World War II

At the start of WWII, Charles Trenet was mobilized. He was in barracks at Salon-de-Provence until he was demobilized in June 1940, when he moved back to Paris. There he would perform at the Folies-Bergère or at the Gaieté Parisienne (two famous cabarets) in front of a public often consisting of German officers and soldiers. The collaborationist press tried to compromise his name and published that "Trenet" was the anagram of "Netter"—a Jewish name. He was able to show his family tree to the authorities, proving that he had no Jewish origin. This act of self-defense was held against him long after the end of the war. Like many other artists of the time, he chose to go on entertaining the occupant rather than sacrifice his career, showing little interest in the Jewish issue. He agreed, when asked by the Germans, to go and sing for the French prisoners in Germany.

After the war

After the war he decided to move to America where he lived for a few years and where he quickly became a success. After a few triumphant concerts at the Bagdad in New York, Trenet became a big hit and was approached by Hollywood. He met the likes of George Gershwin and Louis Armstrong and began a long-lasting friendship with Charlie Chaplin. His song "La Mer", which according to the legend he had composed with Leo Chauliac on a train in 1943, was recorded in 1946. "La mer" is perhaps his best known work outside the French-speaking world, with over 400 recorded versions. For example, it was translated into English as "Beyond the Sea" (sometimes known as "Sailing") which was a hit for Bobby Darin in the early 1960s and later George Benson in the mid-1980s.

Trenet wrote and performed a number of songs that have become standards of French popular song, including: "Fleur bleue", "Y'a de la joie", "Je chante", "Douce France", "Que reste-t-il de nos amours?" and "La mer".

Return to France

On September 14, 1951, Trenet returned to Paris and made a comeback at the "Théâtre de l’Etoile". He incorporated ten new songs into his act, including "De la fenêtre d’en haut" and "La folle complainte". In 1954 he performed at the "Olympia" music-hall in Paris for the first time. The following year he wrote the famous "Route nationale 7" (a tribute to the introduction of paid holidays).

In 1958, Trenet was the headlining act at the "Bobino" and the "Alhambra". In 1960 he returned to the "Théâtre de l’Etoile", appearing on stage for the very first time without the famous trilby hat which had for so long been part of his act.


In 1970, Trenet flew to Japan to represent France at the Universal Exhibition in Osaka. The following year he left Columbia, his long-time record label, and recorded "Fidèle" and "Il y avait des arbres". He also made a memorable appearance at the "Olympia".

In 1973, Trenet, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday, recorded a new album, "Chansons en liberté". The twelve songs on this album were an interesting mix of old and new compositions. His 60th birthday was celebrated in grand style by the French media.

Trenet made a surprise announcement in 1975, declaring that he was retiring from the music world. At the end of his final concert at the "Olympia" he bid his audience an emotional farewell, then, following the death of his mother in 1979, he shut himself away from the world for the next two years.

Later career

Nevertheless, in 1981 Trenet made a comeback with a new album, devoted to sentimental memories of his childhood. Trenet then returned to his peaceful semi-retirement in the South of France, occasionally rousing himself to give a special gala performance in France or abroad.

On May 21, 1999, he returned to the forefront of the music scene with a brand new album entitled "Les poètes descendent dans la rue" (Poets Take to the Streets). Seventy years after writing his legendary classic "La mer", Trenet proved that he was capable of coming up with fourteen inspired new tracks. Following the success of the album, Trenet returned to the live circuit. His concerts proved a huge success, fans in the audience breaking into rapturous applause.

In April 2000 old age began to catch up with Trenet, however, and he was rushed to hospital after suffering a stroke. The singer was forced to spend several weeks in hospital recovering, but by the autumn of that year he was well enough to attend the dress rehearsal of Charles Aznavour's show at the Palais des Congrès (on October 25th). However, this was his final public appearance.

In November 2000 the Narbonne house in which Trenet was born—which had become 13 Avenue Charles Trenet—was turned into a tiny museum. Visitors were able to view souvenirs from Trenet's childhood and family life (especially those belonging to his mother who spent most of her life in the house) as well as original drafts of the songs which had made his career.

External link

Template:Livedde:Charles Trenet fr:Charles Trenet


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