Serge Lama

Born : 11/2 /1943 in Bordeaux (France)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

Serge Lama discovered his vocation at an early age. Indeed, young Serge spent most of his childhood in the music hall, watching his father perform from the wings. Serge soon went on to follow in his father's footsteps, launching his own career on the Paris cabaret circuit, then trudging up and down the country to appear at small bars and clubs. Today this ever-popular artist, renowned for his deep, resounding voice and his apparently boundless supply of energy, divides his time between his singing and acting career.

Serge Lama discovered his vocation at an early age. Indeed, young Serge spent most of his childhood in the music hall, watching his father perform from the wings. Serge soon went on to follow in his father's footsteps, launching his own career on the Paris cabaret circuit, then trudging up and down the country to appear at small bars and clubs. Today this ever-popular artist, renowned for his deep, resounding voice and his apparently boundless supply of energy, divides his time between his singing and acting career.

Serge Chauvier was born in Bordeaux on 11 February 1943. Young Serge grew up in a creative musical environment, as his father, Georges, was a professional baritone, who made a living performing songs from popular operettas of the day. In 1950 Georges and his wife, Georgette, moved up to Paris in the hope of furthering Georges's career, taking 7-year-old Serge with them. Life in the capital proved to be no bed of roses however. Georges found it difficult to get work and the family ended up living in cramped quarters, renting a furnished room in a hotel in the 7th arrondissement. Fortunately, Georges landed his first job shortly afterwards, performing a fairly regular spot at the Théâtre des Capucines. Young Serge, who spent many an evening at the theatre, watching his father from the wings, was fascinated by the bright lights of the music-hall. And it was not long before he vowed to follow in his father's footsteps.

However, Serge's mother Georgette was far less impressed by her husband's 'artistic' lifestyle. She grew tired of struggling to get by on her husband's irregular wages, and began to encourage Georges to give up his singing career and take a more stable job as a salesman. Georges eventually gave in to his wife and bade farewell to the music-hall, much to the chagrin of Serge who admired his father's choice of career. There followed a period of heavy tension in the Chauvier family, husband and wife arguing constantly over domestic affairs. (Serge would later admit that his childhood left him with a number of unhappy memories which he would rather forget).

By the mid-50's Serge, a troubled and difficult teenager, had already started writing poetry. He had also penned a handful of fairly decent songs. In 1956 Serge began attending the Lycée Michelet in Vanves (just on the outskirts of Paris). He was a solitary adolescent who preferred to immerse himself in books rather than converse with his classmates. (Serge's favourite authors at that time were Gide, Camus and Sartre). Serge was none too interested in his studies, however - in fact, French was about the only subject which appeared to motivate him. Serge's great passion in life was the theatre and, at the age of 16, he began to devote an increasing amount of time to the school drama club. Serge gave impressive performances in plays by Anouilh and Giraudoux. And the young teenager continued to harbour secret dreams of launching a career in the theatre or music-hall (thus continuing the career which his father had been forced to abandon!)

At the age of 18 Serge, who had been at loggerheads with his parents for some time by this point, finally decided to leave home and get a flat of his own. The newly-independent Serge began earning a living through a series of odd jobs, but in 1962 he joined the army and was immediately called up for service in France and then Algeria (where the war of independence was gradually drawing to a long and bloody end).

Serge Makes His Début on the Cabaret Scene

Serge returned to civilian life in December 1963 and immediately set about launching his singing career. He auditioned for the legendary Petit Conservatoire (run by the famous French chanson singer Mireille). After passing his audition with flying colours, Serge became a regular pupil at the music school and soon went on to meet Jackie Bayard (a talented pianist who set about twenty of Serge's first songs to music).

Serge had soon developed enough material to perform his own stage act and he promptly went off to audition for L'Ecole Buissonière, a famous Paris cabaret. Serge was not offered a job, but shortly afterwards he auditioned again, this time for another well-known cabaret called L'Ecluse. Serge Lama made his public début at L'Ecluse on 11 February 1964 - the day he turned 21! Young Serge proved an instant hit with the audience, and soon began performing a nightly spot, sharing the stage with the legendary French chanson diva Barbara.

Serge went on to win first prize in the famous song contest "Les Relais de la chanson française", winning the judges and the audience over with a highly impressive performance of his first songs "A quinze ans" and "le Bouffon du roi". Serge's big break came in August 1964, however, when Renée Lebas (a well-known French music star of the 40's who had spotted Serge Lama performing at L'Ecluse) suggested he should record a single. Serge promptly went into the studio and his first single, featuring "A quinze ans" and "le Bouffon du roi", was released in October of that year. Serge was soon much in demand. He went on to perform with Barbara at the famous Parisian music-hall Bobino, as a support act to the legendary Georges Brassens. Then he returned to the cabaret circuit, bringing the house down at La Tête de l'art and la Villa d'Este. Serge also began to concentrate on his songwriting career, penning material for a number of well-known French singers including Francis Lemarque and Régine.

Then in the summer of 1965, disaster struck. Serge was halfway through a tour with Marcel Amont when on 12 August he was involved in a serious car crash. Serge was badly hurt - indeed, his injuries would leave him paralysed for almost eighteen months. Fortunately, Serge's showbiz friends rallied round, giving him encouragement and financial support. In fact, Bruno Coquatrix, owner of the famous Olympia music-hall, and Léo Noël, who owned L'Ecluse, organised a huge gala concert in December (donating the proceeds to Serge).

At the beginning of 1966 Serge, who was still unable to walk at this point, demanded to be taken into the studio so that he could record a series of new songs. "Avec leurs beaux sourires" and "On n'est pas né pour rien" were released as a single on the 'Voix de son maître' label and Serge began to show the first signs of making a miraculous recovery. In June 1965 Serge went on to release a third single, featuring "Sans toi" and "Madame Poupon" (for which the music was composed by Yves Gilbert and "La guerre à vingt ans" and Y'a pas à dire" (for which the music was composed by Emil Stern).

1967: "Les Ballons rouges"

"Les Ballons rouges", the single which was to really rocket Serge Lama to fame, was released in June 1967. Then, in October of that year, he was invited to perform at the legendary Olympia, supporting a rising young Greek star by the name of Nana Mouskouri. The following year Serge switched record company, signing a new deal with Philips. He also began to concentrate on his songwriting career once again, penning a series of hits with composer Yves Gilbert which were performed by a host of French music stars including Juliette Gréco, Lemarque and Marie Laforêt.

Then, in the autumn of 1968, Serge turned his attention to his own singing career once again, going into the studio to begin work on his debut album "D'aventures en aventures". The album, released in October 1968, was arranged by Jean Morlier and featured a number of songs which went on to become Lama classics (such as "Le Temps de la rengaine", an autobiographical song about Serge's childhood, and the title track "D'aventures en aventures"). Lama's debut album proved to be a huge hit with the critics as well as the record-buying public and, the following year, "D'aventures en aventures" would go on to win the prestigious 'Prix de l'Académie Charles-Cros'.

In October 1968, shortly after the release of his album, Serge Lama was invited to support Georges Chelon at Bobino. 1968 proved to be a busy year for the rising young star - for in December he would also go on to celebrate his wedding to Daisy Brun (a woman he had met in hospital during his convalescence). Serge was also kept extremely busy with his songwriting, and later that year he would go on to adapt two songs for Nana Mouskouri and write several more for Isabelle Aubret.

In 1969 Serge went on to win another prestigious award, 'Le prix de la Rose d'Or d'Antibes', for his famous song "Une île". In 1970 Serge Lama went on to record another famous classic, "Edith" (a tribute to the late great Piaf, for which Maxime Le Forestier composed the music). Both of these Lama classics were included on the singer's new album "Et puis on s'aperçoit" (released on the Philips label later that year). In February 1970 Lama also turned his attention to his live career, performing a three-week run at Bobino with Les Haricots Rouges and Jacqueline Dulac. The rest of the year was taken up with concerts at the famous Paris cabaret Don Camillo (where Lama performed for nearly twelve months).

In 1971 Lama was introduced to a talented French composer by the name of Alice Dona. The pair hit it off immediately and over the next few years they would go on to write many of Serge's greatest hits together. Serge was actually introduced to Alice when he took part in the Eurovision Song Contest, performing "Un jardin sur la terre" (co-written by Henri Djian and Jacques Demarny with music by Alice). Unfortunately for Serge, he did not win that year's contest, but his meeting with Alice was to blossom into a lifelong friendship.

Superman

After his appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest, Serge returned to the studio to set to work on a new album entitled "Superman". The title track for the album was an adaptation of The Kinks' legendary 60's hit "Apeman". Serge wrote the lyrics to the French version of the song himself - and the words of the chorus ("Dites pourquoi/Je passe auprès des femmes/Pour Superman" - "Tell me why/Women seem to think/I'm Superman"!) caused a veritable stir on the French music scene. Serge soon found himself stuck with a new image, as a "seductive womaniser" - an image which he spent many long years trying to get rid of! (The album "Superman" also featured another adaptation of a famous Anglo-Saxon hit, Serge transforming Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" into his own French ballad "Vivre tout seul").

After another extensive run at Don Camillo, Serge Lama was invited to perform at the Olympia in February 1973. His concert was recorded as part of the 'Musicorama' series and broadcast on the popular French radio station Europe 1. Following the phenomenal success of Lama's 'Musicorama' concert at the Olympia, director Bruno Coquatrix invited him back the following week and Lama performed a hugely successful ten-day run at the legendary Paris music-hall, supported by the Romanian flautist Georges Zamfir.

But the highlight of Lama's career that year was the release of his new album "Je suis malade". The album, which came wrapped in a famous scarlet cover, featured a number of songs which went on to become legendary Lama classics (such as the rather bawdy song "Les Petites femmes de Pigalle" and "La Chanteuse a vingt ans", which Serge wrote in collaboration with Alice Dona). Needless to say, the title track from Serge Lama's new album went on to become an enormous hit.

In 1974 Lama performed another successful run at the Olympia, then disappeared back into the recording studio to work on a new album. Released less than a year after "Je suis malade", Lama's new album "Chez moi" spawned another string of best-selling hits ("Chez moi", "La Salle de bain" and the unforgettable "Star"). "Chez moi" was followed a few months later by a live Serge Lama album entitled simply "Olympia". (This album featured two previously unrecorded tracks, "La French Nana" and "Mon ami, mon maître" - Serge's tribute to Marcel Gobineau, the man who had become a 'second father' for the singer).

By the time he reached his 30's, Serge Lama had established himself at the forefront of the French music scene. Indeed, Lama had built up a huge following of fans who loved his popular melodies and his typically French lyrics. At the height of his fame, Lama also continued to write material for other singers, penning "Il faut du talent" for Nicole Croisille and "Que je sois un ange" for his friend Nana Mouskouri.  

Serge Lama Triumphs at the Palais des Congrès

In 1975 Lama inaugurated a new Paris music venue, Le Palais des Congrès, performing an extremely successful three-week run there in January. 70,000 fans turned out to watch his new show. The singer then returned to the recording studio to put the finishing touches to a new album entitled "La Vie Lilas". The musical arrangements on Lama's new album included several contributions from his old friend and accomplice, Alice Dona. (Lama would return this favour later that year, writing the lyrics for a number of songs on Alice's debut album released in 1976).

The indefatigable Lama returned to perform at the Palais des Congrès between 8 and 27 February 1977. These concerts proved even more successful than Lama's last run at the Palais des Congrès - indeed, a staggering 180,000 fans packed into the venue to watch his new show! The singer's concerts at the Palais des Congrès coincided with the release of a new album entitled "l'Enfant au piano". (This album included Lama's famous classic "l'Algérie" - a tribute to the young French soldiers who, like the singer himself, had fought in Algeria during the war for independence).

In 1978 Serge Lama released a new album entitled "Enfadolescence", which featured no less than 25 songs, including the famous hit "Femme Femme Femme". The following year the singer returned to the Palais des Congrès, for a series of 70 (!) shows. Audience figures surpassed Lama's 1977 run at the Palais des Congrès, over 300,000 fans turning out to see him this time round - a figure which smashed all attendance records of the time!

Later that year Lama would be greatly affected by the death of the legendary Belgian chanson star Jacques Brel. And in 1979 he chose to pay his own tribute to Brel, recording an album of the Belgian star's greatest hits, entitled simply "Lama chante Brel" (Lama Sings Brel). This appeared to be an entirely appropriate gesture - for several critics had noted how Lama had been influenced by Brel's charismatic manner of 'acting' his songs out on stage. The following year Lama teamed up with the famous French conductor Lorin Maazel. The pair had met on the set of a television show and hit it off instantly, then agreed to go into the studio and record an album together. "Lama/Maazel. Le monde symphonique de Serge Lama", recorded with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, revealed a more classical side to Serge Lama.

In the summer of 1980 Serge Lama returned to the studio to begin work on a new solo album entitled "Souvenirs…attention…danger". Released in October of that year, Serge's new album featured eleven songs, written in collaboration with his loyal composing friend Alice Dona. (The album also featured musical contributions from Tony Stéfanidis, Yves Gilbert, Jean-Claude Petit and Claude Parraudin). In 1981 Lama triumphed at the Palais des Congrès for the third time, attracting sell-out audiences of over 330,000 fans during his three-month run. Later that year Lama went on to release a new live album, which included several previously unrecorded songs such as "Avec simplicité" (written in collaboration with Richard Cocciante).

Father and Son

But the highlight of Serge Lama's career in the early 80's was undoubtedly the album he recorded with his father, Georges Chauvier. The album, entitled simply "Lama père et fils" (Lama, Father and Son), featured a collection of solos and duets by father and son. Serge and Georges enjoyed themselves in the studio immensely, recording a series of original compositions such as "Non, mon fils n'aura pas d'enfants" and a collection of covers (which included an interesting version of Maurice Chevalier's legendary hit "Je n'peux vivre sans amour"). The pair brought the house down when they set off on tour together, performing some thirty gala concerts across France. Their joint concert at Le Grand Rex in Paris proved to be a particularly big success.

Then, after more than twenty years of recording albums and performing countless concerts, Serge Lama suddenly decided to break his 'routine' and branch out in a totally new direction. He decided to stage his own musical, based on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Serge went on to team up with Jacques Rosny (who was responsible for co-writing the lyrics with Lama and directing the show) and Yves Gilbert (who was responsible for writing the music). Lama threw himself into the role of the French emperor body and soul, sporting a Napoleon haircut and - so some people who worked with him later claimed - at times behaving as if he was the diminutive dictator! Very few of Lama's entourage believed the musical would be a success, but they were soon proved sorely wrong. "Napoléon" went on to become a critical and commercial triumph. The public flocked to the Théâtre Marigny in Paris to watch Lama's musical - and the show ended up running for three entire years! In 1982 a double album of the show, entitled "De Bonaparte à Napoléon vol. 1 et 2", was released and followed by a sequel, volume 3 "Marie la Polonaise", in 1984.

In spite of the phenomenal success of "Napoléon" (ticket sales soon topped the 1 million mark!), Lama eventually called a halt to the musical and returned to his solo singing career. At the start of 1986, the singer went back into the studio to begin work on a new album entitled "Portraits de femmes". This album included two tracks dedicated to his parents (who had been killed in a fatal car crash in December 1984) - "Je vous salue Marie" was a tribute to Serge's father, while "Maman Chauvier" expressed his love and affection for his mother. Apart from Serge's attempts to exorcise his personal grief, the album also featured the Lama classics "La musique et l'amour" and "Pas vraimambeau".

Serge Treads The Boards at the Theatre

Serge Lama released a new album, "Je t'aime", in 1987, which was swiftly followed by a series of concerts at the Casino de Paris. The atmosphere of Lama's Casino de Paris concerts was captured on a live album released a few months later. Two years later Serge Lama went on to celebrate 25 years in showbiz, marking the occasion with the release of a Greatest Hits compilation entitled "A la vie à l'amour".

However, although Serge Lama retained a faithful core following of fans, he was no longer the mega-star he had once been. Serge was undaunted by his flagging popularity, and took advantage of this eclipse in his singing career to return to his first love, the theatre. In 1990 Serge played one of the lead roles in Françoise Dorin's play "La Facture", earning a series of rave reviews from the critics. After his success in the theatre, Serge turned his attention to his singing career once again, setting off on an extensive tour of France, Switzerland and Belgium (which lasted through until the end of 91).

In 1992 Serge returned to the studio to record a new album entitled "Amald'âme". Unfortunately this album, which featured new arrangements of nine of Lama's classic hits and three previously unrecorded songs, faded into general oblivion shortly after its release. Undaunted, Lama returned to the theatre in 1993, performing in Sacha Guitry's play "Tôa". Later that same year Lama would land his first television role, starring in the police series "En garde à vue".

Lama turned his attention to his singing career again in 1994, releasing a new album, entitled simply "Lama", in November. The album contained few surprises, the eleven tracks on "Lama" were - well, basically - standard Lama. The song "Je te partage" stood out from the more run-of-the-mill tracks on the album, as did "Tel père tel fils" dedicated to his son Frédéric (who was born in 1971, the year that Lama met his future wife Michèle).

Serge Lama returned to the Palais des Congrès in January 1995, then kicked off an extensive national tour shortly afterwards. The following year the indefatigable performer brought the house down at the Olympia, packing the famous venue out for an entire week. The atmosphere of Lama's Olympia performance was captured on the live album "Lama l'ami" (released on WEA).

Serge Lama made a major comeback in 1998, appearing at the prestigious Olympia in Paris with a classical orchestra (3 - 15 November). Hundreds of Lama fans turned out to watch the show which the singer had premièred in Quebec the previous year. Lama brought the house down, performing four brand new songs and a whole string of his greatest hits which had been specially re-orchestrated for a chamber orchestra (1st half of the show) and full symphony orchestra (2nd half).

Lama, an eternal workaholic renowned for his boundless energy, still has an impressive range of projects on his plate. After completing a series of major national and international tours and performing at countless galas and variety shows, Lama now divides his time between his singing career and his acting career. While the multi-talented star has successfully diversified his activities, his fan club remains solidly united!

Feeling at home on the stage, Serge Lama would keep on performing with as much flame as ever. After the series of symphonic concerts, he switched to a different formula and kicked off for a new tour with no more musical backing than one accordion, one guitar and a set of drums. Satisfied by the formula, he decided to go on like that after 120 concerts. He likes being able to sing with more restraint and give more emphasis on the lyrics. Serge Lama considers himself as a genuine singer-song-writer, and he is somewhat frustrated to be looked upon as no more than a mere interpreter. In order to demonstrate his true talent, he penned a new album entitled "Feuille à Feuille" which was produced by his drum-player, Nicolas Montazaud, and released in November 2001. The singer left out the piano for a change but opted instead for a very sober interpretation of the original lyrics he wrote. He is accompanied on most songs by the accordion player Serge Tomassi.

Most of 2002 was taken up with an extensive tour which took Lama the length and breadth of France. The tour included a short run at the Olympia in Paris (26 - 31 March) as well as dates in Switzerland, Belgium and Quebec. 

On 11 February 2003, Lama celebrated his 60th birthday in showbiz style, delighting fans with a mega stadium show at Bercy (Paris). The special ambience of the show was captured on the live album "Un jour une vie" (released two months later). 

Before the end of 2003, Lama was back in the studio, recording an album of duet versions of his greatest hits. The album, "Plurielles," released in the autumn of that year, featured an impressive line-up of guest stars ranging from Lynda Lemay and Lara Fabian to Annie Girardot and French pop Lolita Lorie. Lama also worked technological miracles, recording a ‘virtual’ duet with the late great Dalida. (The Dalida duet was "Je suis malade," a song Lama had originally written for the Egyptian-born diva).

Shortly after celebrating his sixtieth birthday with friends, Serge Lama got straight down to work on a new show entitled "Accordéonissi-mots." This was a project Lama had had in mind for some time, the idea being to tour the length and breadth of France, playing in smaller, intimate venues and performing alone on stage with only the accordionist Sergio Tomassi for company. The pair performed a mixed repertoire of well-known hits and lesser-known songs including several 'a cappella' versions such as "Je suis malade." The show, which began in January 2004, included a two-month run in Paris at the Théâtre de Marigny in 2005. A live CD and DVD of the show was released in November of that year. Showing not the slightest sign of fatigue, the pair of energetic sixty-somethings hit the road again between February and June 2006, taking their mix of music hall, theatre and circus to the outer reaches of the French provinces.

2008: "L'âge des mots"

In April 2007, Serge Lama finally wound up his tour after performing hundreds of concerts up and down the country. He promptly got down to writing material for a new album, "L’âge d’horizons", which hit record stores on 3 November 2008. The album reflected both sides of the singer's personality, featuring a number of serious, introspective tracks as well as lighter, more upbeat songs. "D’où qu’on parte", for instance, was a poignant ballad about the fleeting nature of time whereas "Les Hommes et les femmes" revolved around vibrant Gypsy rhythms. Lama continued to be inspired by a love of words and rhyme, amusing himself by delving into French literary history on another song entitled "Grosso modo."

A long tour followed, taking in the Palais des Congrès in Paris on 16, 17 and 18 December 2009, accompanied by Sergio Tomassi on accordion and Philippe Hervouet on guitar. After taking a break for a few months in 2010, Serge Lama moved back onto the stage in 2011, including a sell-out performance at the Olympia from 7 to 9 October. But the singer had to cancel the end of his tour due to severe hip pain, and was operated on in early 2012.

Serge Lama was back with a double album celebrating 50 years of career in December 2012. “La balade du poète” saw him reworking his big hits – "D’aventures en aventures", "Les p’tites femmes de Pigalle" and " Je suis malade" – along with a few new numbers, some of them written when he was just eleven. The party continued for his 70th birthday, celebrated on stage at the Olympia from 8 to 17 February 2013, and kicking off a tour of France, Belgium and Switzerland.

April 2013

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