The story of Mireille Mathieu has often likened to a fairytale. Born on July 22nd 1946 in the Provençal town of Avignon, Mireille Mathieu was the eldest daughter of a family of fourteen. Her mother, Marcelle, and her father, Roger, brought up their children in a tiny wooden house. A stone carver, Roger worked for his father, the director of a local company.
Mireille began singing very young and at four she was already singing at midnight mass. She was a real second mother to her brothers and sisters and left school at thirteen to go to work. But singing was her passion.
Mireille - the Next Piaf?
Her career began when she won a "radio-crochet" (a singing competition) in Avignon in 1964. Gifted with a remarkable voice, she was invited to sing on a popular television show, "Télé-Dimanche", hosted by Roger Lanzac and Raymond Marcillac. That day, on November 21st 1965, the French fell head over heels in love with the young woman who reminded them so much of Edith Piaf : the same voice, the same size, the same fervour.
Within only a few months, Mireille Mathieu had attained the summits of popularity. Johnny Stark, Johnny Hallyday’s and Yves Montand’s famous agent, signed the young singer. He became her mentor and encouraged her to take singing, dancing and language lessons. She had to submit to an intense rhythm of interviews, photo sessions and other promotional exercises, while Paul Mauriat, her musical director, put her through an intense series of practice sessions. However, a hard worker, she took to this new life easily.
In 1966 she did support act for numerous singers including Sacha Distel, France Gall and Hugues Aufray. It was not long, however, before her own name was top of the bill. She went on tour after tour and Johnny Stark negotiated contracts all over the world. She has gone on singing at the most prestigious venues world-wide until today.
Her first singles, "C’est ton nom" and "Mon credo", were hits. Others followed ("Qu'elle est belle", "Paris en colère", "la Dernière valse"). She recorded in foreign languages and had charts successes in several European countries, particularly in Germany. Just turned twenty, Mireille Mathieu had become both the symbol and the ambassador of a certain Frenchness. A great admirer of General de Gaulle, she asked him to be the godfather of the latest addition to the Mathieu family, born in 1967.
From her native Provence, Mireille Mathieu flew to Japan, China, the USSR and the United States. In Los Angeles she appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, the famous variety programme watched by millions of Americans. Audiences the world over adored her. She knew how to adapt to the repertoires of each country, and sang in many languages.
On April 7th and 8th 1975, she performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York. Although she was accumulating sales successes in France, she was rarely performing there. She was to be seen much more abroad. Her repertoire included original titles ("Tous les enfants chantent avec moi", "Milles colombes") composed by the most talented French songwriters (Eddy Marnay, Pierre Delanoë, Claude Lemesle, Jacques Revaux). Her great friend Charles Aznavour wrote several songs for her, including "Folle folle follement heureuse" and "Encore et encore". But several cover versions also figured among her hits: "Je suis une femme amoureuse" ("Woman in love") de Barbra Streisand, "La marche de Sacco et Vanzetti", "Un homme et une femme", "Ne me quitte pas", "New York New York"…
At the beginning of the eighties she sang a duo with American Patrick Duffy, one of the characters in the soap opera, "Dallas", and also with Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. At the end of 1985, she was back on stage in France for the first time since 73, at L’Olympia in Paris. Her father had died a few months beforehand, in August and her whole family was at L’Olympia on the first night.
She was invited to sing at the opening ceremony of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul in South Korea.
Ups and Downs
When Johnny Stark died on April 24th 1989, Mireille Mathieu lost a second father. She owed him everything. According to her, the only other agent capable of taking over from him was Stark’s assistant, Nadine Jaubert. But her career, already losing momentum in France, never again rose to its previous heights. She now hardly ever appeared on French television shows and, a symbol of traditional, conservative France, she was often a subject of mockery. Shortly after Johnny Stark’s death, she tried – and failed - to change her image. The album, "L’Américain", a tribute to Stark, was another failed attempt at modernising herself.
In 1989, President François Mitterrand invited Mireille Mathieu to sing a tribute to General de Gaulle. She gave a series of concerts at the Palais des Congrès in Paris in December 1990. Three years later, she released an album devoted to her all-time idol, Edith Piaf.
In January 1996, "Vous lui direz…" came out. Maxime le Forestier signed on of the titles, "A la moitié de la distance". She did not perform live in France to promote the album, however, preferring instead Los Angeles, where she triumphed on November 14th. Dressed by a couturier from Provence, Christian Lacroix, she sang a vibrant tribute to another of her idols, Judy Garland.
China, Vatican and Russia
More celebrated abroad than at home, she returned to China for the umpteenth time in April 97. A Mireille Mathieu museum was opened in a small town in Ukraine. In December 97, she sang at the Vatican in a Christmas concert broadcast world-wide. With all these international engagements, Mireille was less and less present on the music scene at home. However, the singer did make a major comeback at the end of 98, bringing the house down when she performed at the prestigious Olympia music-hall in Paris. Fans were treated to a run-through of 35 years of Mireille's greatest hits!
One year later (on 9 December 1999) French president Jacques Chirac presented Mireille with the "Légion d'Honneur" in recognition of her long career.
Mireille Mathieu is the French singer to have received the most gold and platinum discs abroad. Having a command of many languages, the greatest moments of her career have been on stage. Even though her image has hardly evolved since her début, Mireille Mathieu remains one of the biggest French stars of the last thirty years.
Continuing her worldwide peregrinations, Mireille Matthieu brought the house down at the Kremlin in Moscow in March 2000, enthralling 12,000 fans that had come from all over the world—Germany, France, California—and presented her with sprays of flowers between each of her songs. Accompanied by her 78-year-old mother, the singer also gave two press conferences with no less than 400 journalists.
Now prefering exceptional concerts or isolated shows, Mireille Mathieu did not walk back on the stage until the following year. Meanwhile, she continued nevertheless to release special edition records for every country—the list of her recordings can be found on the two websites mentioned hereafter. It was in Ukraine that she gave her next concert in June 2001 and Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma himself was present to applaud her. Then on September 8 th, she was in Augsburg, Germany, where she took part in a gala along with many others artists.
Her family is always important for her
In November 2001, for the occasion of her mother’s 80th birthday Mireille Matthieu organized a trip around France with her thirteen brothers and sisters. In January the next year, she was again to set off to Eastern Europe, giving a concert in Bratislava, Slovakia. Back in France, she performed five of her biggest hits at the Grand Ball of the Paris Opera—an event that takes place every year, before attending the gala organized within the Luxembourg Gardens to pay a tribute to the victims of September 11th Terror Attack.
Nevertheless, the highlight of the year was still to come when Mireille announced that she would be releasing a new French album in 2002 and touring around France at the end of the year with about 25 dates, including a week at the Olympia in November.
In 2005, the "Demoiselle d'Avignon" celebrated 40 years in the showbiz world and marked the occasion with the release of her 38th album, simply entitled "Mireille Mathieu." The album, which largely took love as its theme, featured contributions from a number of prominent songwriters including Iren Bo and Patrice Guirao.
While back home in France Mireille still suffers from something of an image problem, her work considered as out of date and kitsch, she continues to act as a formidable ambassadress for French 'chanson' abroad. The singer has an impressive following of fans around the world, particularly in Russia and east Asia. On 9 May 2005, the Russian president Vladimir Putin even invited her to perform a special concert in Moscow's Red Square. The concert, attended by heads of state and foreign dignitaries, commemorated the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Later that year in France, Mireille Mathieu took to the stage to celebrate her 40th anniversary in the music world, performing a series of seven concerts at the Olympia, in Paris. Fans turned out in force to see their idol presented with a special "ruby disc." Following her appearance at the Olympia, Mireille embarked upon an extensive national tour in December 2005.
In November 2006, Mireille Mathieu published the first musical DVD of her career, “Une place dans mon cœur”, comprising the film of her 40th anniversary concert at Olympia. The DVD was supplemented with a long interview during which the artist discussed her career, peppered with memories and anecdotes. At the same time, a double CD was released including all the film songs interpreted by Mireille Mathieu (like Claude Lelouch’s “La bonne année”, René Clément’s “Paris brûle-t-il” and Arthur Hiller’s “Love Story”) plus the theme tune for Maritie and Gilbert Carpentier’s cult talk shows from 1950 to 1990.
In May 2007, Mireille Mathieu was in all the papers when she sang “La Marseillaise” and “Mille colombes” on Paris’s place de la Concorde on the night of Nicolas Sarkozy’s election. On 4 November, she performed in Saint Petersburg for Russian national day in front of 12,000 people.
In spring 2008, the singer gave a series of concerts in Germany, where in January she had received the Berliner Zeitung culture award in the “Lifetime’s work” category. She was back in Russia on 1 November 2008, for a concert in front of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi.
Still riding high on her reputation in Russia, in September 2009 she was invited to a military music festival where she was asked to open the festivities by singing three songs in the legendary Red Square, accompanied by the French Foreign Legion Band. At the end of 2009, she brought out an album in Germany entitled “Nah bei dir”, comprising fourteen of her songs translated into German. It was a huge hit in the land of Goethe, where throughout the spring of 2010 the dark diva had been on a tour that also took in Austria and Denmark.
On 12 June, Mireille Mathieu was guest of honour at the Russian Constellation festival in Paris, which was organized as part of the Franco-Russian year and to mark Putin’s visit to the French capital. She performed at the Champs-de-Mars and then at the Grand Palais later on the same day.
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