I first discovered France Gall when I was still in art school. At that time, I didn’t know she was such a big star in the Yé-yé Scene. In early 60s, she became a phenomenal teen idol. My story is, that year I had started my first “scandalous” affair with an older boy. He was 7 years older than me and worked for my school. To entice me, he kept sending me songs by Serge Gainsbourg. That, became the beginning of us. Goes without saying, my love for France Gall lasted and the affair didn’t.
In 1965, at the age of 17, France Gall won the Eurovision Song Contest with a song written by Serge Gainsbourg called “Poupée de cire, Poupée de son.” In her performance, she sang about being a “doll” having to sing about love, something that she was too young to know in real life.
At the time, before my French improved, I could only understand that it was something about being a doll. Her voice and how she swayed from side to side during her song charmed her audience. Like all Gainsbourg’s lyrics, the play on words and rythm of how each word connects to the next was perfect for a voice like France’s. The song ends with “Mais un jour je vivrai mes chansons,” (maybe one day I will live my songs) betokens future.
France Gall’s voice had a unique sound that was between a baby voice and feminine seduction. From watching her performance, one could tell her career would only get better as years go by. The way she was able to emphasize sound and rhythm, mesmerizingly timed, she was an extraordinary singer and performer since the start.
Isabelle Geneviève Marie Anne was France Gall’s birth name, her father was Robert Gall, a successful lyricist. Her grandfather, Paul Berthier had founded a children’s choir called Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois. From the age of five, Gall began playing the piano and later the guitar.
With “Sacré Charlemagne,” a song wrote by her father, France Gall debuted her musical talents at the age of 16. Of the song, she sang about a girl who disliked school and home work.
Her break-up with then boyfriend Claude François, became the inspiration of “Comme d’habitude,” a song he co-wrote with Jacque Revaux. This song is best remembered as sang by Frank Sinatra called “my way,” after Paul Anka re-worked the lyrics in English and retitled it.
In the late 70s and 80s, France Gall’s career continued to grow. When she married Michel Berger in 1976, she put out records of songs written by her husband. One of the hits came out in 1987 was “Ella elle l’a,” a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.
During the 90s, France Gall lost her husband to a heart-attack and a few years her daughter also passed away. The personal tragedies she faced in her life and her courage to live on another two decades without them showed just how remarkable she was in art and in life.
France Gall died on Jan. 8th 2018. This truly marks the end of an era.