Gilles Vigneault. Singer-songwriter, poet, publisher, b Natashquan, North Shore of the St Lawrence River, Que, 27 Oct 1928; BA (Laval) 1950, L LITT (Laval) 1953, honorary D LITT (Trent) 1975, honorary doctorate (University of Quebec at Rimouski) 1979, honorary doctorate (Montreal) 1981, honorary D LITT (York) 1985, honorary D LITT (UQAM) 2004. While completing his general education in Rimouski and Quebec City Vigneault held various jobs such as library assistant, publicist, and archivist. He taught at the Valcartier military base 1954-6, taught algebra and French 1957-61 at the Institut de technologie in Quebec City, and gave summer classes in 1960 and 1961 at Laval University. He was a writer and host 1960-2 for CBC radio and TV in Quebec City.
Quebec City's L'Arlequin boîte à chansons was the fulcrum for two pivotal events in Vigneault's early career. First, in December 1958, he met folk singer Jacques Labrècque, who made the premiere recordings of Vigneault's compositions "Jos Monferrand" and "Jos Hébert" in April 1959. Second, on 5 Aug 1960 Vigneault agreed, at the request of the audience, to sing in public for the first time. He began performing regularly and later, at the boîte à chansons, also in Quebec City, he played several early successes, such as 'Jean du Sud' and 'La Danse à St-Dilon.'
In 1959 Vigneault founded Les Éditions de l'Arc to distribute his publications; since the first, Étraves, he has published more than 20 collections of poems, stories, and songs. Vigneault subsequently performed with increasing success, playing at the Gesù (1961), as well as in Montreal at the Chat noir and Plateau Hall (1961 and 1963). At the Chat noir he met Claude Léveillée, with whom he collaborated on several songs and who set over 30 of Vigneault's texts to music. In 1962 Vigneault recorded his self-titled debut album, which included the aforementioned songs as well as "Jack Monnoloy" and "J'ai pour toi un lac," and for which he received the Grand prix du disque from Montreal radio station CKAC. Vigneault began collaborating with pianist, arranger, and music director Gaston Rochon (b Quebec City 8 Apr 1932, d 3 Nov 1999) in 1963, forming an important musical relationship lasting 25 years and yielding great successes.
At this point, Vigneault's reputation began to grow quickly. In 1963 he won the Grand Prix du 3e Congrès du spectacle and played in the Comédie-Canadienne, where he returned every year until 1968. "Jack Monnoloy," sung by Pauline Julien, won second prize at the International Song Festival in Sopot, Poland in 1964. "Mon Pays," written for Arthur Lamothe's film Il a neigé sur la Manicougan (1965) and sung by Monique Leyrac, won first prize at the Sopot competition in 1965. In June 1966 a float in the annual St-Jean-Baptiste parade in Montreal was dedicated to Vigneault and Leyrac. That same June he was given the Governor General's Award for his anthology of poems, Quand les bateaux s'en vont. He wrote the theme for the film Poussière sur la ville in 1965 and 'Chanson des enfants' for Gratien Gélinas' play Hier les enfants dansaient in 1966. Songs from this period include "Tam ti delam," "Pendant que," "Larguez les amarres," and "Les gens de mon pays."
In the mid-1960s Vigneault began to make regular tours in France, Switzerland and Belgium. He also gave concerts in Montreal at the Comédie-Canadienne, at the Place des Arts, and the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde, and in Quebec City at the Grand Théâtre. He sang with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, at the National Arts Centre and at the Place des Arts in 1969 and 1971, and performed with Pauline Julien at the Théâtre Bobino in Paris during the 'Lundis de la chanson.' At the Olympia he later sang with several other Quebec artists in the show 'Vive le Québec' (1967). He performed at Expo 67 in Montreal, the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1969, Expo 70 in Osaka, Massey Hall, and various venues across northern Ontario throughout 1970.
Vigneault was deeply affected by the 1970 October Crisis. He joined the cause for Quebec sovereignty, took part in independence rallies, and wrote songs such as the politically motivated "Lettre de Ti-cul Lachance" (1971) and "J'ai planté un chêne," the latter becoming the theme for the Parti-Québécois victory during the 1976 Quebec provincial election. In 1971 Vigneault founded the record label Le Nordet (Éditions du Vent qui vire) which records, in addition to himself, Sylvain Lelièvre and Laurence Lepage.
Though a devoted sovereignist, Vigneault's appeal in English Canada remained strong: in April 1974 he sang in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. The same year, he participated in the Superfrancofête show on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, with Robert Charlebois and Félix Leclerc, at which the album J'ai vu le loup, le renard, le lion was recorded (Les Productions du 13 août, VLC-13). On 24 Jun 1975, during a St-Jean-Baptiste holiday performance on Mount Royal, Vigneault sang "Gens du pays" for the first time. This song quickly became one of his best known. The following year's St-Jean-Baptiste concert saw Vigneault perform with Robert Charlebois, Claude Léveillée, Jean-Pierre Ferland, and Yvon Deschamps in a concert entitled Une fois cinq; the album issuing from the event won a prize from France's Académie Charles-Cros. Being at the height of his power, Vigneault went on to give a series of 50 recitals at the Théâtre Bobino and the Théatre du nouveau-monde in 1977. Songs from this period include "Le voyageur sédentaire," "Le temps qu'il fait sur mon pays," "Il me reste un pays," "Maintenant," "Je chante pour," and "Quand nous partirons pour la Louisiane."
The year 1980 proved a busy one for Vigneault, who worked for the "Yes" side of the Quebec sovereignty referendum, was recognized by his peers in a tribute concert at Place des nations in Montreal, and lost Gaston Rochon, his long-time accompanist and arranger (there had been a growing distance between the two for some time). Rochon was replaced by Robert Bibeau. Vigneault pursued his interest in children's music, starting in 1978 with the album Les 4 saisons de Piquot, and putting out two more: Quelques pas dans l'univers d'Éva (1981), and Un jour, je ferai mon grand cerf-volant (1983). The latter won an additional prize from the Académie Charles-Cros in 1985.
Vigneault spent two years of the early 1980s living in Europe. From the 1980s onwards, he sang mostly in France. In 1987, he created the show 'Le Temps de dire' at the TLP Dejazet of Paris, in which he participated as a storyteller. In 1989, at the Choralies in Vaison-la-Romaine, he sang 'Le Doux chagrin,' 'Gens du pays,' and 'Les Amours, les travaux' with 6,000 choristers. Throughout that decade, Vigneault was showered with honours in Canada and Europe.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of his career (1990), the city of Paris held a week of events and the Francofolies mounted the show 'La Fête à Vigneault' at the St-Denis Theatre in Montreal. That year, he released Chemin faisant, a set of 101 songs (alluding to Bill 101 on language rights in Quebec), and participated in the St-Jean-Baptiste celebrations on St Helen's Island. He created, with Marcel Sabourin, the children's theatre piece Titom in 1991; won the Festival d'été du Québec's lifetime achievement award with his song "Un monde fini" in 1992; and the same year played before 70,000 fans for the 350th anniversary of the founding of Montreal.
Vigneault continued to give concerts, notably at the Théâtre du nouveau-monde in 1993, and on tour in France and Switzerland in 1994. He collaborated a second time with Marcel Sabourin in 1997 for the children's theatre piece Léo à Vélo. Another collection of his songs, Au milieu de vous, appeared in 1998, featuring several previously unreleased tracks, and in 2001 he released the double album Voyagements, recorded during a tour of Quebec and Europe. After making the 2003 album Au bout du coeur, he mused about it being his last. However, he went on to release an instrumental album (his first), Quinze reels et une valse, in 2005. He has said that he would continue to perform live as long as his health permitted, and he has done so, at the Auditorium Saint-Germain in France in 2004, the Festival Mémoire et Racines in Lanaudière, Que, in 2005, and Baie-du-febvre, Que, in May 2006. On recent albums he has collaborated with regular accompanists Bruno Fecteau and Jocelyn Guilmette as well as with Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer, and les Chauffeurs à pieds.
Vigneault's Impact in Music and Other Arts
Vigneault is the subject of the films Ce soir-là (1968, by Arthur Lamothe), Miroir de Gilles Vigneault (1972, CBC, by Roger Fournier), and Why I Sing - The Words and Music of Gilles Vigneault (National Film Board) (NFB) by John Howe, telecast 7 Feb 1973 on the CBC. Vigneault also appeared in the NFB's Musicanada (1975) and played in Jean-Guy Noël's Tinamer (1987).
'Jack Monnoloy' was the subject of a ballet by Georges Reich at the Comédie-Canadienne in September 1966. Several Vigneault songs served as the inspiration for dance and contemporary classical music, eg, the Brian Macdonald ballet Tam Ti Delam, staged in November 1974 by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens to an instrumental score by Edmund Assaly; and the composition Variations on a Theme by Gilles Vigneault for organ, by Bengt Hambraeus (1984).
Several of Vigneault's texts have been set to music and recorded by other musicians, including Gilbert Bécaud ('Natashquan'), Pierre Calvé ('Quand les bateaux s'en vont'), Robert Charlebois ('La Marche du président'), and Claude Léveillée ('L'Hiver,' 'Rendez-vous,' 'Avec nos yeux' and others).
The performers who have recorded, sung, or played Vigneault's songs are numerous. In Canada they include the Choeur V'là l'bon vent, Neil Chotem, Renée Claude, François Dompierre, Emmanuelle, the Ensemble Claude-Gervaise, Louise Forestier, André Gagnon, Patsy Gallant (who recorded an English disco version of 'Mon Pays' disowned by Vigneault), Pauline Julien, Jacques Labrecque, Monique Leyrac, Isabelle Pierre, Louise Poulin, Ginette Reno, Marie Savard, Marie-Claire Séguin, and Fabienne Thibeault. In France, Vigneault songs have been taken up by Frida Boccara, the Compagnons de la chanson, Jacques Douai, Jeanne Moreau, Colette Renard, and Catherine Sauvage.
Vigneault is one of Quebec's and Canada's central musical figures of the 20th century. Not only was he a founder of the movement in Quebec songwriting that examines and celebrates its cultural identity, he has changed with the times, often reflecting in his music larger political and social issues. Like Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault created a style, inspired by the folksongs he heard as a boy in Natashquan. 'Some of my songs recall in their rhythms the old country songs,' he told Marc Gagné (Propos de Gilles Vigneault, Montreal 1974), 'because I lived in a world where they still sang drinking songs and where they still liked to square dance.' His rich, vivid lyrics present such memorable characters as Ti-Cul Lachance and Caillou Lapierre and approach their subjects in a colourful manner, such as in 'L'Air du voyageur,' 'La Danse à St-Dilon,' 'Fer et titane,' 'Gens du pays,' 'Les Gens de mon pays', 'Il me reste un pays,' 'J'ai pour toi un lac,' 'Mademoiselle Émilie,' 'Pendant que,' 'Tire mon coeur,' and 'Le Vent.'
Many of Vigneault's songs were written in collaboration with his music director for concerts and recordings, Gaston Rochon. Rochon recorded an LP of Vigneault songs arranged for orchestra, Dans l'air des mots (Le Nordet, 1974, GVN-1004). The importance of this collaboration to the creation of the music cannot be underestimated. In fact, a profusion of conferences and papers has been organized around a range of issues relating to Vigneault's career, relevance, and impact.
Vigneault is well known for his chansons engagés, which tackle political issues close to his heart. He is most famous for his support of the Quebec independence movement, though his vision is not uncompromising, and his music is respected elsewhere in Canada. Sovereignty is hardly his only political cause in music; he has expressed concerns over a variety of social issues - notably the environment but also social identity and difference - which have enabled his music to touch audiences in Canada and abroad.
Though he never learned to sing with skill, Vigneault's raucous voice, which often strains in the high register, has become an inseparable part of his music. After a recital by Vigneault at the Olympia in Paris, Dominique Bosselet wrote: 'His voice is hard, hoarse, biting, a voice that hurts. And his rustic accent now and then makes some of his songs incomprehensible. Yet after five minutes with this ordinary guy, with his slight build and mobile features, the audience is applauding, and after ten minutes we discover not only that Gilles Vigneault can convey the tragic but that he has a rare humour, and is a poet' (France-soir, 21 Apr 1970). A poet deeply rooted in Quebec, Vigneault was the principal representative of the generation of chansonniers who assured the Quebec chanson of its own identity, while giving it a universal dimension. "A song is a small bridge between the banks of a river, between two people, or two cultures," Vigneault said. "[It] is most useful when it inspires someone to plant a tree, when it becomes a subtle device of seduction, or when it becomes a lullaby. These are all little bridges" (speech at Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala 5 Feb 2006).
Additional Awards and Honours
Among the many awards and honours Vigneault has received are (in addition to those already mentioned): the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée (1966), the Grand prix du disque de l'Académie Charles-Cros of Paris (in 1970 for Du milieu du pont and in 1984 for Les Quatre saisons de Piquot and Quelques pas dans l'univers d'Éviola), the Molson Prize (1982), the Prix Denise-Pelletier, the Jacques-Blanchet medal (1987), the Vermeil medal of the City of Paris (1990), and the medal of L'Academie des lettres du Québec (1993). He was named a Chevalier of the Ordre national du Québec (1985), Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur (1986), and Officer of the Ordre des arts et lettres of France (1990). He sat on the board of directors of CAPAC (1970-4). He was named to the SOCAN Hall of Fame in 2005, and to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame the following year. A school in Marseilles, France is named for him.
See also Chansonniers.