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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 12:45 GMT
French singer Trenet dies
Charles Trenet: One of France's best-loved performers
Celebrated French singer and composer Charles Trenet - lauded for hits such as La Mer (The Sea) - has died aged 87.

He was a magician with words, an inventor of rhythm

French President Jacques Chirac
Trenet died on Sunday in hospital at Creteil near Paris, following a second stroke. He had been in hospital since suffering his first attack last week.

Although best known for the haunting melody of La Mer, Trenet wrote almost 1,000 songs earning himself the nickname,"le fou chantant" - the singing madman.

He became a legend of French popular music, along with Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Georges Brassens.

Some Trenet songs
Y'a d'la joie (1937)
Je chante (1937)
Boum (1938)
La Mer (1941)
Douce France (1943)
Le soleil et la lune (1946)
Route nationale (1955)
Le jardin extraordinaire (1957)

French President Jacques Chirac paid tribute to Trenet on French radio.

"(He was) a man who was not only a great artist and poet, but also a great national figure," said Chirac.

"He was a magician with words, an inventor of rhythm, one of those rare poets who give an era its colour, its feel, its atmosphere; and who feed dreams.

"A symbol of a smiling, imaginative France, he was for all of us - in any case for many - a figure both close and familiar. It is the soul of a poet which has departed."

La Mer speaks of the sadness of France after the German occupation of World War II. More than 4,000 versions have been recorded around the world.

Among Trenet's other well-known songs are Le soleil a rendez-vous avec la lune (The sun has a date with the moon) and Douce France (Gentle France).

Douce France, in particular, remains dear to many of his fellow countrymen and women as a sentimental tribute to the land he loved.

At the height of his career Trenet also appeared in several French movies including La route enchantée , Adieu Léonard and La cavalcade des heures.

Paris nightclub

Trenet was born in Narbonne in the south of France in 1913. He moved to Perpignan with his lawyer father after his parents' divorced and soon displayed a talent for poetry and performance.

The Catalan poet Robert Bausil encouraged him to develop his abilities and urged him to seek his fortune in Paris.

Charles Trenet
Trenet was a pioneer on many fronts

He went to Paris aged 17 and took a job at the Joinville film studios. But by his early 20s, Trenet's singing skills had made him a star of the Paris night life.

Among early associates at the Montparnasse nightclub Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit were the writers Jean Cocteau and Max Jacob.

Jacques Brel, a celebrated Belgian singer, described Trenet's "bonhomie" as one of the last links to the great music hall tradition of pre-war France.

He added: "Without Trenet, we would all be accountants." But Trenet's lightness of touch belied a rigorous professionalism.

In the club he formed a duo with pianist Johnny Hess, writing and performing their own work. It ended with Trenet's departure for military service but Trenet continued to compose in uniform.

Among the songs he wrote during this time was Y'a d'la joie (There's joy) which Maurice Chevalier made into a hit.


In 1945, Trenet went to the US and stayed there for six years, writing all the time.

When he returned to France, Trenet's talent of blending traditional French sounds to American jazz and zany lyrics made him a big success.

He was also one of the first French entertainers to take advantage of radio as a mass medium.

He resumed his music hall career on his return to France and performed regularly until his retirement in 1975.

When he appeared live he was mobbed by fans in a way that foreshadowed the Beatlemania of the 60s.

In November 1999, he returned to the stage for three concerts in Paris.

Throughout his life he tirelessly wrote new songs, returning to the recording studios to turn out new collections of songs in 1992 and 1995. He also found time to write novels and an autobiography.

He attributed his artistic longevity to his determination to remain active and to a regime of early rising and brisk walks.

His epitaph, he joked, should be: "Born a poet, died an athlete."

The BBC's Jo Episcopo
"Trenet quickly became a huge star"
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