When you think of French music, what comes to mind? A 1950s café setting with an accordion playing in the background! Not entirely wrong, because French music has its roots in classical music, but it has evolved dramatically since its traditional folk music days! Anyone with an ear for global music would agree that French music has taken the top spots in the world music charts today, and has made a name for itself in all styles, whether classical, ballads, romantic, or contemporary electronic.
As the most aurally appealing of the romance languages, it’s no surprise that seductive singers and coolly delivered pop dominate much of French music. Their classical music pedigree is also undeniable, having produced the likes of Ravel, Satie, and Debussy, but French music is also distinguished by joie de vivre that transcends genres and decades.
Here are some famous French singers:
1. Edith Piaf
The “Little Sparrow,” France’s legendary singer and actor Édith Piaf, is best remembered for her iconic Grammy Hall of Fame-inducted song La Vie en Rose and the classic non, je ne regrette rien. She began her career as a street singer after being raised by the prostitutes of her grandmother’s brothel. Édith Giovanna Gassion has one of France’s most recognizable voices. La Vie en Rose performs for audiences all over the world; even after 76 years, her songs continue to resonate, and her voice continues to captivate.
Perhaps the reason for Piaf’s emotional drama in her voice is that her entire life was marred by trauma. Piaf was assigned to live with her grandmother, a Madame who ran a brothel. When her father returned from WWI, he took her to France to perform on the streets.
2. Charles Aznavour
Aznavour was known for his distinctive vibrato tenor voice, which was clear and ringing in the upper registers and gravelly and profound in the lower registers. Over the course of his 70-year career as a composer, singer, and songwriter, he recorded over 1,200 songs in 9 languages. He also wrote or co-wrote over 1,000 songs for himself and others. Aznavour is regarded as one of the greatest songwriters in music history and a cultural icon of the twentieth century.
He was dubbed France’s Frank Sinatra and a “French pop deity” by music critic Stephen Holden, who described Aznavour as a “French pop deity.” Between 1974 and 2016, Charles Aznavour received approximately sixty gold and platinum records worldwide, representing several million cumulative sales. He is still the best certified French singer in the United States, and one of the few French artists to hold a Recording Industry Association of America certification. According to his record company, the artist’s total sales of recordings were more than 180 million units at the time of his death.
3. Serge Gainsbourg
Regarded as one of the most influential figures in French pop, he was known for his often provocative and scandalous releases, which sparked outrage in France and divided public opinion, alongside his varied body of music, which included everything from his early jazz, chanson, and yé-yé work to his more recent rock, zouk and electronica. Gainsbourg’s varied musical style and individuality make him difficult to categorize, despite the fact that his legacy is well established and he is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential popular musicians.
Gainsbourg wrote over 550 songs, which have been covered by over 1,000 different artists. His music has reached legendary status in France since his death from a second heart attack in 1991, and he has become one of the country’s best-loved public figures.
4. Vanessa Paradis
Vanessa Paradis, a French singer and actress, rose to fame at the age of 14 in 1987 with the French song Joe le taxi. She went on to have more success with English songs such as Be My Baby and many other French songs. She has also appeared in several French films and has frequently modeled for Chanel’s high-end fashion products such as perfume and handbags. Vanessa Paradis, one of France’s most popular singers, achieved success at a young age.
She sings in the R&B, pop, and rock genres, and her other well-known songs include Il y a, Pourtant, and Marilyn & John. She had already made a name for herself when she began dating the famous Hollywood actor, Johnny Depp. Aside from singing, Paradis is well-known in the acting and modeling industries, having appeared on over 300 magazine covers.
Bruno Caliciuri performs professionally as Cali and is an active member of the French music scene. Cali was born in Perpignan and now lives in Languedoc-Roussillon.
Cali, who was influenced by Irish punk, has released three albums and been a member of several bands. His rock-pop music is traditionally accompanied by bass, drums, and guitar. Cali, on the other hand, enjoys experimenting with violin, sax, trumpet, and even trombone to add layers to his sound and create a folk-jazz fusion.
6. Maurice Chevalier
There was much more to Chevalier’s career than the borderline-camp song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Chevalier was the embodiment of the suave French leading man in a career spanning 60 years, including both world wars, working with everyone from Sinatra to Jayne Mansfield to the Marx Brothers. The leading film and Broadway composers admired him, and he got to introduce songs by Rogers and Hart, Gershwin, and Berlin. One of the sweetest signature tunes for one of the most iconic French singers was the oft-recorded “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me.”
7. Johnny Hallyday
Johnny Hallyday, real name Jean-Philippe Léo Smet, is one of France’s most famous singers. He was known as the French Elvis Presley because he was a heartthrob who popularized rock and roll in France. Johnny had a lengthy career spanning nearly six decades, with over 100 million records sold. He released 79 albums, 22 of which are Platinum, 5 are Diamond, and 40 are Gold.
Not only that, but he has received 10 Victoires de la Musique awards, as well as Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1997) and Officer of the Order of the Crown (2001), demonstrating that he is truly one of the best French singers the country has ever had. He was regarded as one of the world’s best-selling artists, particularly in French-speaking countries, and was almost treated as a national monument in the country.
8. Josephine Baker
Freda Josephine McDonald, better known as Josephine Baker, was a French dancer, singer, and actress of American origin. In 1931, she released her most popular song. Baker was involved in social issues aside from singing and later acting, including participating in the French resistance during WWII and being a part of the civil rights movement. Her efforts earned her the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor with the Resistance rosette, two of France’s highest military honors.
9. DJ Snake
William Sami Étienne Grigahcine, better known as DJ Snake, is a Paris-based Algerian-French DJ and record producer. He is expected to be the highest-paid and most successful French musician in 2020. DJ Snake grew up in Ermont, a ghetto-like banlieue district outside of Paris.
10. Roberto Alagna
Roberto Alagna, the first opera star on our list, truly represents the pinnacle of French classical vocal performance. He was born in Clichy-sous-Bois and has performed on stages worldwide, including the Royal Opera House, La Scala, and the Metropolitan Opera. Alagna’s most famous performance was as Romeo in the classic play Romeo and Juliet in 1994. His Romeo, masterfully portrayed at the Royal Opera House, earned him an international following. He was awarded the Chevalier Legion of Honor in 2008.