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Charles Trenet

Updated on March 17, 2014

The Last of the Legendary Chanson Stars

Charles Trenet, the 'Soul of Narbonne', was the last of the legendary French chanson singers.

Chanson refers to French popular vocals, particularly romantic ballads, a popular musical genre in France from the 1880s until the end of World War II. Chanson is distinguished from the rest of French "pop" music by following the rhythm of the French language, and it's identifiable as specifically French.

Many of the classic chanson singers were movie stars, such as Maurice Chevalier, while others, like Edith Piaf, were cabaret performers.

Trenet's best known song is La Mer and it's as popular today as when he recorded it in 1946.

Charles' best known song, La Mer

Charles' best known chanson, La Mer, is a lilting, lyrical invocation to the local Mediterranean coastline of his childhood.

He sings of the reed lagoons, the sparkling waves shot with silver reflections, seabirds in the rust-tinged clouds under the passionate sunshine of southern France.

La Mer is a hymn to joy, a song of love, and it was an inspiration in a world emerging from the dark years of the Second World War.

This delightful song is well known outside the French-speaking world, with over 400 recorded versions. In the 1960s it was given totally unrelated, insipid English words and proved to be a big hit for Bobby Darin.

La Mer - Live Performance

Charles sings La Mer in, as he calls it, 'Swing Style'.

La Mer on MP3

I appreciate all of Trenet's music - it's so deceptively simple. Each line and each note he wrote is crafted with great formal care and artistic invention.

But here's La Mer, his most popular song, on an MP3 for .99 cents!

Le Fou Chantant

The Singing Fool

Trenet was fascinated by the 1928 Al Jolson film, The Singing Fool. He loved playing the fool, and with his curly hair, rolling eyes and battered old hat he often reminded audiences of Harpo Marx.

It was in 1936, when Charles was called up for national service, that he received the nickname Le fou chantant. He would keep it all his life.

But behind his fooling was a true dedication to his art. He had a tremendous gift for words, and was a genius of rhythm and melody.

Charles, aged 28, sings 'Verlaine' - Big Band Sound - 1941

Adieu, Charles Trenet

He suffered a stroke in 2001 when he was 87, only hours after dining with Charles Aznavour in Paris.

Trenet always enjoyed his food, and a few days later he called for a pot of cassoulet, the celebrated and powerful Languedoc meat stew. After finishing the meal, he lay back and quietly died..

The indomitable Singing Fool left the stage of life on 19 February 2001.

How about you?

What do you think of Charles Trenet?

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Leave a note for Charles Trenet - Sing your own song!

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    • Lemming13 profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm a fan of Charles too, but I'm sad you didn't put on a clip or mp3 of my favourite song (next to La Mer, of course) - Douce France, which ought to be the national anthem of France. Great lens all the same, though.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      J'adore La Mer, J'adore Charles Trenet


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