Lucille Raymonde Marie Savoie (later Regan and Cunningham), popular singer, country singer (born 13 May 1938 in St. Boniface, MB; died 4 September 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada). Lucille Starr was an internationally successful pop music and country singer, and one of a handful of Canadian popular musicians to record in both English and French. Her biggest hit was “The French Song” (“Quand le soleil dit bonjour aux montagnes”). It sold more than 7 million copies in 1964–65, making her the first Canadian woman to sell 1 million records. She was also the first Canadian woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and the first Canadian woman inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Honour.
Starr was raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, as well as the Coquitlam neighbourhood of Maillardville. (See Francophones of British Columbia.) In her teens, she sang with the French ensemble Les Hirondelles. She began her career as Lucille Starr in Vancouver in 1954. Two years later, she and Bob Regan (singer, songwriter, guitarist, fiddler) formed the country duo the Canadian Sweethearts. She also sang and recorded with country singer Keray Regan, Bob’s brother. Starr and Bob Regan married and moved to Los Angeles. As the Canadian Sweethearts, they enjoyed popularity across North America.
A versatile singer in many pop music and country styles, Starr also recorded alone for A & M. Her biggest hit was “The French Song” (“Quand le soleil dit bonjour aux montagnes”), written by American songwriters Harry Pease and Larry Vincent. Sung in French and English, and characterized by Starr's distinctive vibrato, it was popular in 1964–65 in Canada, the US, Europe, Australia, Asia and South Africa. The song and an LP of the same name were reported to have sold 1 and 5 million copies, respectively, making Starr the first Canadian female singer to earn a gold record.
Starr's other hits during the 1960s included “Yours,” “Crazy Arms” and “Jolie Jacqueline,” for A & M; and “Bonjour Tristesse” for Epic. Starr also was heard in this period on the popular American TV comedy The Beverly Hillbillies, yodelling for the character Cousin Pearl.
Of Starr's later singles, “Power in Your Love” (1981) and “The First Time I've Ever Been in Love” (1988) were popular in Canada. She toured during the 1980s with a troupe from Nashville's Grand Ole Opry; appeared with both Hank Snow and Wilf Carter; and performed widely on her own in Canada. She was also co-host of Canadian Country Express (1989–90), syndicated from CHRO-TV in Pembroke, Ontario. She also performed several times as a headliner in Holland, where she made her first appearance in 1965.
Starr's other albums include Say You Love Me (reissued as The Canadian Sweethearts and as Lucille Starr with Bob Regan); The Sun Shines Again (1981), released after her recovery from vocal cord polyps; Back to You (1988); Sweet Memories (1991); and the bilingual Chansons d'Amour/Songs of Love (1991). The anthology Side by Side: Pop and Country/Lonely Street, comprising her recordings for Epic, was released in 2004. Starr also co-wrote songs with Bob Regan or others, e.g., on The Sun Shines Again. Sylvia Tyson recorded “Pépère's Mill” and once called Starr “simply the best female country artist Canada ever turned out, with an extraordinary voice and great stage presence — so full of energy.”
Starr and Bob Regan had one child together, Bob Frederickson; he played guitar with a later version of the group Buffalo Springfield. Starr reportedly endured an abusive relationship with Regan, who beat her and threatened to take their son away from her if she left him and broke up their duo. Starr continued to perform with Regan until 1977 and eventually divorced him. She met her second husband, Bryan Cunningham, at a solo show of hers in Sarnia, Ontario, in 1976. Starr and Cunningham settled in Las Vegas, where she helped raise two stepchildren.
In 1987, Starr became the first woman inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Honour. In 1989, she was made a member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. She was also the first woman to earn Europe's Gold Tulip Award. In 2005, she was an honorary inductee into Canada's Aboriginal Music Hall of Fame. A street in Coquitlam, BC, is named Lucille Starr Way in her honour.