Born: Feb 7, 1927 in Montpellier, France
Styles: French Pop, Vocal Pop
Muse to the Parisian literary scene of the '50s, godmother of songwriter-led '60s French pop, and a self-reinventing torch singer from the '70s until now, Juliette Greco is one of the great French recording artists of the 20th century. Born in Montpellier in 1929, Greco was classically trained at the Paris Opera as a youngster. Forced to flee Paris at the outbreak of the Second World War, and practically orphaned when her mother was jailed for her resistance to the Nazis in 1943, Greco then sought refuge with her former French teacher in the St. Germain des Pres quarter of Paris.
In the later years of the war, the literary and artistic world of the Left Bank was flourishing, and Greco became a fixture in this world, befriending Sartre and other writers of renown, and appearing in the theater and on a literary radio show. Her experiences of hardship in the war had influenced her politics and sowed the seeds for the great liberation she flaunted after the war, becoming the pinup for the so-called bohemian scene.
Greco made an acclaimed debut as a singer in 1949, premiering songs penned for her by such leading writers as Jacques Prevert ("Les Feuilles Mortes"), Jules Lafforgue ("L'Eternel Feminin"), and Raymond Queneau ("Si Tu T'Imagines"), set to music by Joseph Kosma. In the new post-war songs, lyrics were privileged over the bigger orchestrations favored by singers like Edith Piaf; Greco's intellectual bent made her the perfect interpreter for this new movement. Her singing style shared the dramatic enunciation of Jacques Brel and the droll delivery of Georges Brassens, her contemporaries in quite different musical scenes, while showcasing a sensuality all her own. Greco released the song "Je Suis Qui Je Suis," again written by Prevert and Kosma, two years later: it was a huge hit for her.
Having toured Brazil and the United States, Greco returned to Paris in 1954 to triumph at the Olympia hall, with the song "Je Hais les Dimanches," written by a young Charles Aznavour. Devoting most of the rest of the decade to a successful film career in the United States, Greco returned to Paris in 1959 and began a second phase of her musical career as the patron of a new French generation of songwriters in the early '60s. She collaborated with artists like Serge Gainsbourg, who wrote "La Javanaise" for her, as well as Leo Ferre and Guy Beart. In 1968, now massively famous from high-profile television appearances and her earlier recordings, she released her song "Deshabillez-moi," which was an openly sexual piece and marked a change from the intellectual, literary slant she had always put on her songs.
After a slight stalling of her recording career in the early '70s due to trouble with record companies, Greco embarked on a third stage in her career in 1975, collaborating closely with Gerard Jouannest, the former pianist for Jacques Brel, who set many of the texts written for her to music henceforth. She married him in 1989. Further releases in the '80s ("Greco '83") and '90s (the beautiful "Juliette Greco") saw her experimenting still, and promoting new songwriters, like Etienne Roda-Gil and Caetano Veloso. In 1998 she released "Un Jour d'Ete et Quelques Nuits," and in 2004 her album Aimez-vous les uns les Autres ou Bien Disparaissez was a real return to form, featuring collaborations with young artists Miossec and Benjamin Biolay. 2006 saw the release of the album Le Temps d'une Chanson.
- Caspar Salmon (All Music Guide)