BOYER, Lucienne: Parlez-moi d'amour
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Few songs could be more representative of their time and place than Parlez-moi damour
Which is not to claim for it any startling degree of originality, as it was conceived very much in that time-honoured style in which Yvain, Scotto and other stalwart cabaret men had written for Mistinguett, for Cora Madou or for Damià. Its tune is undistinguished, its harmonic progressions predictable, but perhaps therein lies its charm, for the voice, the pace and the fairy-tale ambience of the recording combine magically make it one of the successes of popular song history, a sort of key 1930s signature song, rather as "Falling In Love Again" was to Dietrich or "Lili Marlene" to Lale Andersen. And it stuck to Boyer, stayed with her for the duration of her career. Not that Boyer ought to be lightly dismissed as a one-hit wonder. In addition to becoming a cabaret artist of international standing she had many other hits, including some good sellers, but none quite as magical as this one.
Born Émilienne-Henriette Boyer near Montparnasse, Paris, in 1901, the daughter of a plumber and a dressmaker, Lucienne Boyer grew up in Vaugirard on the farm kept by her grandparents. Her childhood was a normally happy existence until 1914 when its harmony was shattered by her fathers death on active service shortly after the outbreak of the Great War. With her mother at her side, Emilienne suddenly found herself at work in a French munitions factory; but every cloud has a silver lining, for it was in that situation that her talent as an entertainer was first noticed.
Boyer made her earliest cabaret appearances in 1917 at the tender age of sixteen. When the war was over, she worked in a millinery in Montparnasse and, being a duskily attractive and buxom lass, also as a model for Jean-Gabriel Domergue, Foujita and other avant-garde painters. However, the stage remained her ambition and she effected her entrance to that large and unknown world by accepting a post as a typist at the Théâtre de lAthénée. Changing her name to Lucienne Boyer, she gradually became known through appearances in various cabarets and revues, notably at the Concordia, the Eldorado and the Michel and, by 1926, had made the first of many gramophone recordings, for Columbia.
Among these early efforts was her first substantial success, "Tu me demandes si je taime" (a song originally penned expressly for Cora Madou) by the Marseilles-born, Paris-based composer-guitarist Vincent Scotto (1876-1952). A key figure in the French cabaret scene who contemporaneously provided material on a regular basis for, among others, Josephine Baker and Tino Rossi, Scotto went on to pen for Boyer other successes, notably Youp et youp (1926) and the engagingly poignant Sans toi (1932).
In 1927, during an appearance at the Concerts Mayol, she was spotted by the American impresario Lee Shubert (1873-1953). The impressed Shubert engaged her on the spot for his next years Broadway season, on condition she receive prior coaching from the Parisbased, part-Scandinavian song coach Nylson Fysher. America, as she herself was later often to admit, conferred on Boyer a star status she might not otherwise have achieved. After a nine-month sojourn in the States, in 1928 she returned to Paris where, following her star appearance in a Fursy revue, she became an established figure of Parisian cabaret.
Her happy association with Jean Lenoir (aka Jean Neuberger, 1891-1976) began in 1929 with "La belle", a song he wrote for her in collaboration with lyricist Albert Londres. A noted conductor and light-music composer, Lenoir had already written "Pars" for Yvonne George and (it is said almost by chance) introduced Boyer to another of his earlier compositions, Parlez-moi damour. Two days later Lucienne interpolated this rather old-fashioned ballad into her own cabaret show Chez les Borgia and by some alchemy she and Lenoir were world-famous when her subsequent recording of it won the coveted Grand Prix du Disque, a newly created award inspired by the songs unique success.
During 1934, Lucienne Boyer made a return visit to New York for appearances at the Little Theater on 44th Street and other venues and became a virtual household name throughout the States and South America during the mid-to-late-1930s, thanks to various tours. Although she made films in France (most notably La belle saison, 1937), she consistently rejected Hollywoods massively lucrative offers to make her a screen star, preferring the comparatively quieter existence and greater audience rapport of the cabaret circuit.
In 1939, she married her second husband, the cabaret singer Jacques Pills (of the duo Pills et Tabet) and their daughter, Jacqueline, was born in 1941, by which time Pills, being Jewish, was finding life in France increasingly difficult. Throughout World War 2, Boyer continued to sing in France, although she refused categorically to appear in Germany. After the liberation of Paris, her cabaret career flourished until the 1960s, even after Pills had deserted her for Edith Piaf. As late as 1976, partnered by her daughter, she sang at the Paris Olympia and subsequently made a number French TV appearances.
The Lucienne Boyer discography, which extends to the 1960s, contains versions (in many cases creator versions) of the best inter-War French cabaret songs. Those of her heyday are all delivered with the same slightly faded, essentially ingénue Boyer charm. Apart from further items by Lenoir, including Parle-moi, Attends and Le coup dur, there are many others composed for her by her accompanist and lover Jean Delettré, notably "Ta Main" (perhaps better known in English-speaking countries as the standard "Hands Across The Table"), "Comme une femme", "Cest pas la peine", "Parle-moi dautre chose" and "Viens danser quand même". Among the other well-known chansonnettes she featured are Gaston Lemaires "Je laimais tant", "Pierre Beyles Si petite" (also popularised in an English version entitled "Snuggled On Your Shoulder"), Jean Tranchants "Moi, jcrache dans leau" and "Jai laissé mon coeur", an early composition by Michel Émer (1906- 1984) of "Laccordéoniste" fame. Lucienne Boyer died in Paris on December 6, 1983.
Peter Dempsey, 2001