Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel

Jacques Romain Georges Brel was a singer-songwriter born in Belgium who wrote thought provoking and literate songs. His works were so influential that he gathered a lot of devoted followers, first in France and Belgium and then from all over the world. He is regarded as a master when it comes to chanson. Even though nearly all his songs are written in French, he still became a huge influence on a lot of famous English-speaking composers and other music artists. Apart from being a masterful composer, Brel was also a very good actor and appeared in ten films. He later on went into directing and made two films of his own. One of them, Le Far West also got a nomination at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival for Palme d’Or. Brel holds thirds place in the highest amount of recordings sold by a Belgian artist with 25 million worldwide record sales.

Brel was born in Brussels on April 8, 1929. Brel was not good at any subjects at school. The only thing he showed talent in was writing. He helped in setting up a Drama Club in his college and showed great interest in stage performances. When Brel turned 15 he started playing guitar. A year afterwards he created a theatre group of his own with his friends and started writing plays.

Not a good student, he joined his father at work when he turned 18 and to kill his boredom he joined La Franche Cordée, a youth organization of Catholics in the area. This is also the place where he crossed paths with Thérèse Michielsen, the girl who will later become his wife.

In 1952, Brel started to compose songs which he performed at different family gatherings and the cabaret circuit of Brussels but his family didn’t approve of his style. It was this same year that Brel got a chance to perform on a radio station in the area. In the January of 1953 he gave a performance at a cabaret in Brussels called La Rose Noire. A month later, Brel got a contract with Phillips Records which led him to recording La Foire, his first ever record (78 rpm). It was released a month later. Jacques Canetti, the company’s talent scout convinced Brel to go to Paris. Despite his family’s disapproval and the fact that he just had a second child, he went to Paris in the fall of that year.

Once in Paris Brel pushed very hard to make sure his music career started to lift off. He found work at several cabaret venues around Paris and then in 1954 he participated in a chanson contest in which he stood at 27th position from a total of 28 performers. But all was not in vain as the French singer Juliette Gréco asked Brel for permission to sing a song that he wrote at an upcoming concert of hers. Brel made his first ever performance at Olympia Theatre in July 1954.  Not long afterwards he went across France for his first music tour and at the end of the same year, Brel had his first album Jacques Brel et ses Chansons released.

Once the first album was released, Jacques Brel had found a firm standing in the musical theatre and then a long list of songs and albums kept on coming and he started touring all over the world for years to come until he finally retired from performances and focused on filming in his life’s final years. Being ill for quite some time, he passed away on October 9, 1978.


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