Robert Charlebois | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Robert Charlebois

Robert Charlebois. Singer, actor, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, b Montreal 25 Jun 1944. After studying piano for six years and acting 1962-5 at the National Theatre School in Montreal, Robert Charlebois divided his early career between music and theatre.

Charlebois, Robert

Robert Charlebois. Singer, actor, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, b Montreal 25 Jun 1944. After studying piano for six years and acting 1962-5 at the National Theatre School in Montreal, Robert Charlebois divided his early career between music and theatre. In 1965 CBC TV's "Jeunesse oblige" named him discovery of the year in the chansonnier category, and his first LP, which he recorded with Select (SSP-24-131), contained the song "La Boulée" which received a special prize at the Festival du disque. Combining his two interests of music and theatre, he performed in 1966 in Louis-Georges Carrier's musical comedy Ne ratez pas l'espion and, with the actor Jean-Guy Moreau and the singer Mouffe (Claudine Monfette), wrote and presented in 1967 the revue Terre des Bums. An LP of the revue (whose title is a word play on the theme of Expo 67, Terre des hommes) was issued by Phonodisc (PHL 5006). In 1968, with Mouffe, Louise Forestier, Yvon Deschamps, and le Quatuor de jazz libre du Québec, Charlebois performed in the revue Peuple à genoux. L'Osstidcho (at the Comédie-Canadienne), which followed with the same cast, was the most important show of the decade due to its innovation and unbridled creativity. Then came L'Osstidchomeurt (1969, at the Palais Montcalm). In 1968 Charlebois represented Quebec at the fifth International Festival of French Song (Spa, Belgium), winning the grand prize with "Lindberg," which he wrote with Claude Péloquin. His recording of "Lindberg," a brash, electrifying performance, in which Forestier also sings, was very popular and won him the Prix Félix-Leclerc in the 1969 Festival du Disque.

Robert Charlebois continued to sing with Mouffe or Forestier as his partner in concert and on records. A tour of France in April 1969, with Forestier and le Jazz libre, was curtailed after a riotous performance at the Olympia in Paris. Nevertheless, Charlebois's image as "Superfrog," an outlandish figure in a Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater who sang in joual to the accompaniment of a jazz-rock group, soon became a novelty in French pop music; amusement at the novelty gradually gave way to an appreciation of the originality and energy of his music. Charlebois returned to France in 1970 and performed at the Olympia in 1972 (twice), 1973 (for three weeks), and 1974.

Appearances in English Canada
In 1969 Charlebois made his first significant appearance in Canada outside Quebec, at the Toronto Pop Festival (Varsity Stadium); in 1970 he was a member of the Festival Express (with Janis Joplin, Ten Years After, Mountain, The Band, etc.), which travelled across Canada by train for concerts in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary. (In later years he gave occasional concerts elsewhere in Canada - eg, at Ontario Place in 1978. He also was seen on such TV specials as "Outer Places with Robert Charlebois" in 1974.)

Charlebois's second major success, "Ordinaire," written with Mouffe about their pianist Pierre Nadeau ("le gros Pierre... un gars ben ordinaire"), was introduced in 1970. Representing the CBC at the 10th International Song Festival (Sopot, Poland) that year, Charlebois won first prize with "Ordinaire." His other most popular songs to 1974 included "CPR Blues," "Avril sur Mars," "Le Mur du son," "Conception," "Fu Man Chu," "California," "Entre deux joints," "Entre Dorval et Mirabel," "Que-can blues," and "Cauchemar."

Superfrancofête and Sabbatical
By this time the outstanding figure in Quebec pop music and a radical force in the musical development of the chansonniers throughout the 1970s, Charlebois performed frequently in the province's major venues: at the Forum (1969, 1970), at Place des Arts (in recital and in pops concerts with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974), at the Bastille in Quebec City (1973), and elsewhere in CEGEPS and at festivals. In 1974 Charlebois announced a two-year sabbatical, which began after he participated with Félix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault in the "Superfrancofête" held 13 Aug 1974 on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec City - a historic gathering (telecast on CBC and later in France) of the three men who founded the modern chanson in Quebec - and gave concerts at the Olympia in Paris.

During his sabbatical Charlebois appeared in the French film Sombre Vacances (for which he wrote the music, 1975) and in Sergio Leone's Italian-made western Un génie, deux associés, une cloche (1976); he also wrote scores for the Quebec films Jusqu'au coeur (in which he performed, 1969), A soir, on fait peur au monde (1969), Deux Femmes en or (1970), and Bulldozer (1971).


In 1976 Robert Charlebois returned to the concert stage with performances at the St-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations on Montreal's Mount Royal, at the Olympic Village in Montreal alongside Gordon Lightfoot, on tour in Quebec, and in France, where he played 10 nights at the Palais des Congrès in Paris. "Mon ami Fidel" and "Je reviendrai à Montréal" were among the hits of this period. He received the Prix de l'Académie Charles-Cros for his recording 1 Fois 5 (see Discography for Chansonniers). In 1978, with the LP Swing Charlebois Swing, he turned to a form of crooning. Although his popularity waned in Quebec, which yearned for the young 25-year-old rocker Charlebois had been, it continued to grow in France. In 1979 he performed for three weeks at the Palais des Congrès with Nanette Workman as his partner, then toured the country. It can be said about Charlebois that, after Félix Leclerc, he was, on an even grander scale, the first major Quebec star of all francophone cultures and that he opened the door for the likes of Luc Plamondon, Diane Dufresne, Fabienne Thibeault, Diane Tell, Daniel Lavoie, Roch Voisine, etc.

In the 1980s, Charlebois made regular tours in France and in Quebec and had several hits, such as "Moi Tarzan, toi Jane," "Les Talons hauts," "C'est pas physique, c'est électrique," "Graziella," and especially "J't'aime comme un fou" with lyrics by Luc Plamondon, which won the Félix Award for best song of the year 1983. That year, he won the Félix for LP of the year and, the following year, for show of the year. He composed the music for the film Honeymoon (lyrics by Boris Bergman). After being absent from the Quebec scene for five years, he renewed his ties with the Quebec public in 1989, performing with Louise Forestier during the closing of the Festival d'été international de Québec, and at the St-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations in Montreal.

1990 - Present

Robert Charlebois opened the microbrewery Unibroue in 1990. He remained part owner until 2004. In 1993 he was awarded the Victoire de la Musique Trophy for best world music album and in 1994 he won a Governor General's Performing Arts Award. Also in 1993 Charlebois recorded the rock opera Cartier, which was broadcast live on French radio networks in Canada, France, Belgium and Switzerland. By the late 1990s his music had transformed into a style similar to world beat (combining rock, metal, ballad, Latin and rap). 2001 saw Charlebois partnering with producer Claude Larivée for the come-back album Doux Sauvage. In 2008 he was inducted into the National Order of Quebec and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and in 2010 was named to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Other notable awards include the Médaille d'or des Olympiades de la chanson (1973), Prix de la Ville de Paris (1975), ADISQ's Félix for his life's work (1993), Médaille Vermeil de l'Académie française (1996), and the SOCAN William Harold Moon Award (2003).

Robert Charlebois's Impact

The impact of the one called "Garou" on the broadening of style of the Quebec chanson and overall francophone chanson cannot be overestimated. The greatest French stars have recognized his crucial role in francophone song. Julien Clerc, in particular, performed the song "Ordinaire" for many years. Charlebois brought to his early work an awareness of the pop musics of Great Britain and the USA. His music draws from diverse sources: jazz, South American, etc; he was possibly the first in the chansonnier tradition to use an electric guitar (and later a full band) for accompaniment; he introduced into his presentations panache and a sense of the theatre and its applicability to pop music. Referring to Charlebois as the standard by which the Quebec chanson and its artists are measured, Benoît L'Herbier (La Chanson québécoise, Montreal 1974) stated: "He has become the epicentre - the nerve centre around which all the others gravitate.... We can find traces of the French and Anglo-Saxon influences that have contributed to the present originality [of his music]. But let's not forget, above all, the poetry, his own or others, that he has transmitted and communicated. With the help of Claude Péloquin, Marcel Sabourin, Mouffe and Réjean Ducharme in particular [among his songwriting collaborators], Charlebois has created a universe of his own - both poetic and musical, complete... If Michel Tremblay has revolutionized and revitalized the theatre of Quebec, Charlebois has done the same for the chanson. Like Tremblay he belongs to this new generation which wants to sing about, to project a Quebec as it is, without artifice, with candour, but also with colour, poetry, humour and intelligence... Joual has served Charlebois to enhance an already extraordinary music and augment the incalculable impact generated by his appearance."

Music heard on Charlebois's LPs has been arranged and/or conducted by Jean-Marie Benoit, Paul de Margerie, Pierre Nadeau, Art Philips, Vic Vogel, and others. His music has been published by Éditions Gamma and Éditions Conception.


(by label)

Select (1965-1966): Robert Charlebois, vol 1. SSP-24-131. Robert Charlebois, vol 2. SSP 24-147

Gamma (1968-72, 1993): Robert Charlebois. GS-115 Robert Charlebois avec Louise Forestier. GS-120. Québec Love. GS-136. Terre des Bums. GCD-280. Un gars ben ordinaire. GS-144. Robert Charlebois. GS-146. Les Grand succès de Robert Charlebois. G-2-1003. L'Histoire de Robert Charlebois. G-3-601. Robert Charlebois (collection Québec Love). GCD-501.

Barclay (1972-5). Charlebois. 800123. Solidaritude. 80173. Charlebois. 80200. Les Grands succès Barclay: Robert Charlebois, vol 21. 2-75021

RCA (1979). Émilie Jolie. PL-37338

Solution/Kébec Disc (1976-91). Longue distance. SN-905. Live de Paris. 2-SN-925-926. Swing Charlebois Swing. SN-939. Disque d'or. SNX-945. Disque d'or. SNX-926. Cauchemar. 2-Solet SNA-947-948. Solide. SNL-964. Heureux en amour. SN-531. Robert Charlebois. SN-801. Super position. SN-802. Charlebois vol. 1. SN-803. Dense. SN-804. Première période. 3-SNC-975-3 (CD)

Immensément, SN C 805. L'Opéra-rock Cartier..SNC-806. La Maudite tournée. SNC-2-809. Le Chanteur masqué. SNC-810

La Tribu (2001-06). Doux sauvage. TRIB21613. Tout écartillé. UBX107-04. Au National - Édition limitée. TRICD-7262. Le meilleur du pire du Charlebois. Volume 1. TRICD-7278

See also Discography for Chansonniers.

Further Reading