Gilbert Bécaud (24 October 1927 – 18 December 2001) was a French singer, composer and actor, known as “Monsieur 100.000 Volts” for his energetic performances. His best-known hits are “Nathalie” and “Et Maintenant”, a 1961 release that became an English language hit as “What Now My Love”. He remained a popular artist for nearly fifty years, identifiable in his dark blue suits, with a white shirt and “lucky tie”; blue with white polka dots. When asked to explain his gift he said, “A flower doesn’t understand botanics.” His favourite venue was the Paris Olympia under the management of Bruno Coquatrix. He debuted there in 1954 and headlined in 1955, attracting 6,000 on his first night, three times the capacity. On 13 November 1997 Gilbert Bécaud was present for the re-opening of the venue after its reconstruction.
Born François Silly in Toulon, Gilbert Bécaud learned to play the piano at a young age, and then went to the Conservatoire de Nice. In 1942, he left school to join the French Resistance during World War II. He began songwriting in 1948, after meeting Maurice Vidalin, who inspired him to write his early compositions. He began writing for Marie Bizet; Bizet, Bécaud 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 the year after. 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 1956’s Le Pays D’où Je Viens. 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.
In 1961, Gilbert Bécaud wrote and recorded Et Maintenant, 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. After writing the opera L’opéra d’Aran, Bécaud toured Europe and continued recording a string of pop music hits, including Tu le Regretteras. 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.
His song “Seul sur son Etoile” became “It Must Be Him” (with English lyrics by Mack David), a hit in 1967 for the US singer, Vikki Carr, and the following year another Bécaud song, L’Important c’est la Rose was given an English lyric (by Norman Newell) and became a hit for the UK singer, Vince Hill under the title “Importance of Your Love”.
On 19 June 1968 the American Broadcasting Company aired a half-hour color special starring Bécaud that had been taped in Saarbrücken. Bécaud performed “Nathalie”, “Mademoiselle Lise” and “The Day The Rains Came” and sang a duet with Inge Brück, “Sand and Sea”. The program also featured performances by João Gilberto, Lill Lindfors and Hans Koller.
Gilbert Bécaud turned his focus more toward touring than recording into the 1970s. An example was his live performance at the festival The Golden Orpheus on June 1971 in socialistic Bulgaria. He followed this with some acting work and at last finally took time off in 1973, citing exhaustion. In 1974, he was named Chevalier in the Légion d’honneur. The following year he scored his one and only entry on the UK Singles Chart with A Little Love And Understanding which reached number 10 in the Spring. Later in the century, he began writing with Pierre Grosz and then Neil Diamond, also penning the Broadway musical Roza with Julian More.
In 1982, he recorded the duet “L’amour est Mort” with Québécoise singer Martine St. Clair at the start of her career.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a slowdown of Bécaud’s activity, releasing various compilations and touring occasionally. In December 2001 he died from cancer, aged 74, on his houseboat on the Seine and was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Bécaud’s song catalogue, running to around 450 songs, is published by BMG Music Publishing.