Isabelle Boulay

Born : 6 /7 /1972 in Sainte-Félicité (Canada)
Country : Canada
Language : French
Category : Female Artist
Style of music : Chanson

Quebec has a long-standing tradition of producing chanson divas with extraordinary voices and Isabelle Boulay is no exception to the rule. Isabelle's soul-filled vocals, together with her strong stage presence and her impressive mane of auburn hair, have won this young singer a huge following of fans in her native Quebec. What's more, Quebec's new diva has now become a firm favourite across French-speaking Europe.

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    Quebec has a long-standing tradition of producing chanson divas with extraordinary voices and Isabelle Boulay is no exception to the rule. Isabelle's soul-filled vocals, together with her strong stage presence and her impressive mane of auburn hair, have won this young singer a huge following of fans in her native Quebec. What's more, Quebec's new diva has now become a firm favourite across French-speaking Europe.

    Born in Ste Félicité, a small town in Gaspésie, in eastern Quebec, on 6 July 1972, Isabelle was the eldest of her parents' three children. The Boulay family owned a restaurant in Ste Félicité and Isabelle was encouraged to sing there for friends and family from an early age. Isabelle also performed in public for the restaurant's clientele and news of the young prodigy soon spread throughout the region. Performing a surprisingly extensive repertoire (which included everything from chanson to country classics), Isabelle soon began entering local singing contests and carried off her first award at the age of seven.

    Tragedy struck the Boulay family in 1980 when, following a serious accident, Isabelle's father moved out of the family home and went off to live in the woods. Isabelle would not see her father again until just before his death in 1995.

    First Steps

    When she turned 16 Isabelle began studying literature in Limoilou at a local "Cegep" (in Quebec's education system a "Cegep" is an intermediary school between a lycée and a university). Singing remained a fervent passion for Isabelle, however, and one day her friends signed her up to take part in "Le festival de la chanson de la Petite-Vallée", an amateur singing contest in Matane. Isabelle brought the house down at the Petite-Vallée festival, stunning both the audience and the judges with her vocal performance. Bowled over by the teenager's obvious talent, a Québécois journalist by the name of Joselito Michaud encouraged Isabelle to launch a professional singing career. Reluctant to abandon her studies, Isabelle hesitated for a few months, but after continued insistence from Michaud, she finally decided to give it a go and Michaud became her manager.

    Thus it was that in the early 90s Isabelle took her first tentative steps on the Québécois music scene. The young singer appeared shy and relatively unsure of herself at first, but Joselito Michaud had an unshakeable faith in his protégéé. In 1991 Michaud felt the time was ripe to enter Isabelle for the "Festival de la chanson de Granby", a famous song contest which had already uncovered major talents such as Jean Leloup and Lynda Lemay. Isabelle triumphed at the Granby Festival, carrying off the top award with a breathtaking performance of the Jacques Brel classic "Amsterdam" and a song called "Naufrage" (written by Québécois songwriter Dan Bigras). Isabelle's victory at Granby proved to be a turning-point in her early career, convincing her that she had what it took to pursue a professional career.

    Live Concerts and Studio Work

    In the summer of '91, 19-year-old Isabelle made her first major appearance, performing at the famous "Francofolies" music festival in Montreal. By the following year she had also performed her first concert in France, supporting Bill Deraime at Le Théâtre Dejazet in Paris. Gaining in experience and confidence, Isabelle went on to perform her first solo tour in her home region of Gaspésie. From there she went on to work with a host of well-known Québécois artists including Dan Bigras (with whom she worked as a backing singer, performing 75 concerts between 1992 and 1993).

    In August '93 Isabelle added another award to her already impressive collection, representing Radio Canada at the "Truffe de Périgueux" festival held in Périgord, France. The young Québécois singer carried off the prize for Best Singer in the "chanson francophone" category (awarded by an association of public radio stations broadcasting in French). Following her success in Périgord, Isabelle came to the attention of the renowned French Canadian songwriter Luc Plamondon who was looking for up-and-coming talents to perform in a new production of his rock opera "Starmania".

    Plamondon signed Isabelle up as Marie-Jeanne (a part originally played by Fabienne Thibault in 1978). Between 1995 and 1998 Isabelle went on to make the role her own and her performance in "Starmania" helped her make a major name for herself on the French music scene as well as back home in Quebec. Isabelle became even more of a household name in Quebec when she recorded the soundtrack to "Alys Robi", a television series named after Quebec's first chanson diva.

    Following her success on stage in "Starmania" Isabelle felt encouraged to pursue her main ambition and began to devote all her time and energy to recording a debut solo album. She began by trying to assemble a crack team of songwriters and composers. One of the songwriters Isabelle was most interested in working with at this stage of her career was Franck Langolff (the man who had helped Vanessa Paradis launch her career with "Joe le Taxi"). But she ended up working with two local Québécois songwriters, instead, Daniel DeShaime and Daniel Bétan writing all the material on her debut album, "Fallait pas". Released in 1996, the album did not get a particularly favourable reception from the press or the record-buying public however.

    Isabelle overcame her disappointment at poor album sales and carried on with her career regardless. On June 24th 1996 the young Québécois singer flew to Paris to take part in the "Dial d'Or" song contest staged at the Café de la danse. Beating off stiff competition from 19 other singers, Ms. Boulay carried off the "Dial d'Or" award in style. Later that year she went on to bring the house down at the "Francofolies" in Montreal for a second time, taking part in a special tribute to the legendary Québécois singing star Raymond Lévesque. Shortly after this triumph, Isabelle went on to perform her first solo concert solo in Montreal, playing to an enthusiastic audience at Le Spectrum.

    Second Time Lucky

    In 1997 Isabelle waved goodbye to fellow cast members of "Starmania" and locked herself away in the studio to begin work on her second album. By this stage of her career, the young Québécois singer had established herself as a major name in France and Quebec, so she was able to work with the crème de la crème of the songwriting world. Ms. Boulay's new album featured contributions from an impressive cast of songwriters including French pop diva Zazie, Richard Cocciante, Luc Plamondon, Zachary Richard and - Franck Langolff (who penned "Le Saule" especially for her).

    Released in Quebec on February 12th 1998, Isabelle's second album confirmed her as one of the country's top stars. Over the next few months the singer was almost entirely preoccupied with a non-stop round of interviews and promotional work. When this was over she embarked upon an extensive tour of Quebec.

    Isabelle earned her first gold disc in the autumn of '98 when sales of her second album topped the 100,000 mark. Following this commercial success,, she was invited to appear at the prestigious "Adisq" award ceremony (Quebec's version of the "Brit Awards" or France's "Victoires de la musique"). She won nominations in four different categories, but failed to carry off awards in any of them. Nevertheless, Isabelle Boulay proved to be one of the major stars at that year's "Adisq" gala.

    Isabelle's second album was released in France in November of that year and the Québécois diva turned up in person to launch the new album with a concert at the Musée Grévin in Paris on November 9th. "Je t'oublierai", the first single release from the new album, was soon rocketing up the French charts. In fact, "Je t'oublierai" went on to become Isabelle's first major hit in France, winning her instant popularity with French music fans.

    Following her French triumph, Isabelle returned to Montreal at the beginning of December to perform two concerts at Le Théâtre St Denis. She earned rave reviews from music critics for these shows, which featured guest appearances from the likes of Jim Corcoran, Michel Rivard and Eric Lapointe.


    Isabelle continued to flit back and forth between Quebec and France throughout 1999, making increasingly frequent appearances in the French media and performing in Paris at the Théâtre Dejazet (where she had made her French debut) in May of that year. Popular with a number of French singing stars, Isabelle was soon showered with invitations to guest at other singers' concerts. The Québécois diva appeared frequently on stage with Serge Lama, performing a duet entitled "l'Aventure c'est l'aventure". Lama even invited Isabelle to perform the duet with him at the Olympia, where she also got the chance to perform a mini solo set.

    In the autumn of '99 Isabelle went on to support Francis Cabrel when he appeared at Le Zénith in Paris and also accompanied the French star on tour. After that, she flew back to Quebec to accompany French heart-throb Julien Clerc on tour, supporting him at a memorable series of concerts in Montreal in November.

    In the meantime Isabelle had also been busy on the live circuit herself, bringing the house down at numerous summer festivals including the "Francofolies" in Montreal where she appeared on stage surrounded by a host of famous guest stars including Daniel Seff, Michel Rivard, Laurence Jalbert and France d'Amour. (A live album of this show was released in Quebec in the spring of 2000).

    On 20th October 1999 Isabelle added yet another prestigious award to her collection, winning the "Félix" award for Best Female Singer of the Year at a special awards ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Adisq.

    Isabelle was back on the road again by the beginning of 2000, accompanying Francis Cabrel on his tour of Quebec where she joined him on stage each night to perform the duet "C'était l'hiver". In May of that year Isabelle went on to make a guest appearance at Patrick Bruel's concert at Le Zénith in Paris. In July 2000 Isabelle Boulay brought the house down at "Les Francofolies" in la Rochelle, sharing the stage with two other talented divas, Israeli singer Noa and French mega-star Patricia Kaas.

    Isabelle returned to the studio later that year to put the finishing touches to her third studio album, "Mieux qu'ici bas". Released in September 2000, the album featured contributions from an impressive array of songwriters and composers including Louise Forestier, Diane Tell and France D'Amour (on the Quebec side) and Jimmy Kapler (aka Robert Goldman, Jean-Jacques Goldman's brother), Zazie, Patrick Bruel, Richard Cocciante, Daniel Seff and Bashung's songwriter Jean Fauque (on the French side).

    Following the release of "Mieux qu'ici bas", Isabelle set off on an extensive tour, playing numerous dates across Quebec between October 2000 and February 2001 and bringing the house down when she performed at the legendary Paris music-hall, l'Olympia, on December 4th 2000.

    At the end of February 2001, the Quebec singer moved on to a mini tour of France and was back at the Olympia on the 21st and 22nd. The French are particularly fond of the sexy red-haired artist, and in March, she scooped the Victoires de la Musique for the Best New-coming Artist of the year and her album "Mieux qu’ici bas’ was rewarded the Best New-comer’s Album Award.

    Back in Quebec, the star went on an extensive tour of a hundred dates. It came to an end in September, but Isabelle Boulay immediately went on and began touring around Europe. She gave a triumphant performance at the Paris Zenith on October 16th. And a few days later, at the 23rd Adisq Gala (the Quebec version of the Brit Awards) she carried off several more awards: Best Female Singer of the Year, Best (i.e. most popular) Album for "Mieux qu’ici bas", and Best Show of the Year.

    Constantly travelling back and forth between Quebec and France, the red-haired singer performed at the Palais des Congrès on March 30th and 31th 2002. A few days later she was back in Montreal, Quebec, for two dates at the Wilfried-Pelletier venue where she was accompanied by the Montreal Symphonic Orchestra. Those four concerts were recorded into a live album entitled "Au moment d’être à vous" released exclusively for the European market. Later that year during the 24th gala of the Adisq (Quebec’s version of the Brit Awards), she was presented once more with the Prize for the Best Female Singer of the Year.

    Tout un jour on the road

    In May 2004, she released her seventh album, "Tout un jour", which heralded new adventures on the road: "I do all the recording work for one reason – so that I can go out on the road and meet my public, sing, captivate people and give them the pleasure they seek out in coming to see me perform." Isabelle Boulay worked with a prestigious stable of composers, including Francis Cabrel, Zachary Richard, Daniel Belanger, Louise Forestier, Lionel Florence, Patrice Guirao, Pascal Obispo, Daniel Lavoie Etienne Roda-Gil and Daniel Seff. And yet despite the diversity of songwriters, the album nonetheless feels very intimate. It was co-produced by Benjamin Biolay and Pierre Jaconelli.

    In September the singer kicked off a tour lasting more than six months, coming on top of a fifteen year career. The first concert was in Laval, Quebec on 7 September, after which she toured France until November. In January 2005, she returned to Quebec until April, then continued performing back in France through to June. She performed at the Olympia in Paris from 25-30 April, having sold 300,000 copies of her new album.

    "Du temps pour toi", a live album featuring highlights from the tour, was released in 2006. The following year, Isabelle Boulay went on to release an album of country music entitled "De retour aux sources" ("back to my roots"). This new venture, which found the singer delving into her childhood influences, included contributions from top songwriters such as Michel Rivard, Zachary Richard, Louise Leforestier, Luc de la Rochellière, Jorane and André Gagnon. "De retour aux sources" also featured an interesting cover of Joe Dassin’s "Mon village au bout du monde."

    2008: "Nos lendemains"

    After performing a series of concert dates in Quebec, the flame-haired diva released a new album, "Nos lendemains", in March 2008. Produced by Dominique Blanc-Francard, the album featured a wealth of songwriting and composing talents including Julien Clerc ("Reviens, reviens"), Maxime Le Forestier, Jean-Louis Murat, Benjamin Biolay ("Ne me dis pas qu'il faut sourire") and Jacques Veneruso. The title of Isabelle’s new album was inspired by a country song by Ron Sexsmith, originally entitled "Tomorrow in her Eyes." Guillaume Vigneault adapted the song into French for Isabelle as "Nos lendemains." Isabelle’s new album also included a cover of "Coucouroucoucou Paloma", a personal tribute from the young Québecoise expressing her admiration for Nana Mouskouri.

    Isabelle Boulay kicked off another French tour with a run at the legendary Olympia, in Paris (21 - 23 March 2008).

    On 20 October that same year, Isabelle Boulay gave birth to a little boy called Marcus. The father was none other than her producer, Marc-Antoine Chicoine.

    Two weeks later, at the Gala de l'Adisq, Isabelle Boulay received 3 Félix awards: female singer of the year, the most distinguished Quebecois artist outside of the province, and best show (singer).

    She gave a few more concerts in Quebec and Europe before getting down to a new album, which was released in Canada in November 2009. With the title "Chansons pour les mois d'hiver", Isabelle Boulay chose to dedicate the disk to her favourite winter season. Among the tracks are her versions of Julien Clerc’s "le Patineur", Francis Cabrel’s "Hors-saison" and Ferland’s "Je reviens chez nous".

    2011: "Les grands espaces"

    During the autumn of 2011, the Quebecois singer released an album called "Les grands espaces” to much critical acclaim. She once more called on the services of Benjamin Biolay to produce a disk marked by accents of americana. Folk-country seemed to suit Isabelle Boulay and give her a bridge to bring together the two sides of the Atlantic. She did versions of some of the songs from her singing tour, like "Jolie Louise" by Daniel Lanois, and "True Blue", which she recorded in Nashville with country superstar, Dolly Parton. Jean-Louis Murat wrote a number for her, "Amour aime aussi nous voir tomber", Benjamin Biolay wrote "Voulez-vous l'amour", Hubert Mounier (ex-Affaire Louis Trio) "Voyager léger", and Steve Martin "Les grands espaces". She seemed at home in this new world that gave her a chance to take her audiences on a voyage.

    She performed at the Casino de Paris from 1 to 4 December before setting off on a major tour of France and Quebec.

    July 2012

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