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9 June 1930

Born as Monique Serf in Paris as the second of four children in a Jewish family (from a French/Ukranian marriage) she endured WW2 in hiding in Vesinet. After the war ended, a neighborhood professor of music heard Monique sing and took an interest in helping her develop her talents. She was given vocal lessons and taught to play the piano and eventually she enrolled at the Ecole Supérieure de Musique. However, money was a problem and she gave up her musical studies to sing at the Théâtre Mogador where Monique encountered the world of French Chanson with Piaf en Trenet. In 1949 Barbara met Jean Wiener who sent her off to audition with the Prévert brothers. Pierre Prévert was, at that time, director of the Fontaine des Quatre Saisons. Unfortunately, business was not good and all Prévert could offer Barbara was a job washing glasses. Barbara took the job and it was from her vantage point behind the bar that she watched the great stars of the day such as Boris Vian and Mouloudji perform.

She left Paris in 1950 to move to Brussels, where she lived until 1952. Back in Paris in 1954 she started at Le Moineau, performing songs of Léo Ferré and Pierre Mac Orlan under the name Barbara. In 1957 she recorded her first E.P. ‘Mon pote le gitan’. After some more singles she recorded her début album in 1960 on the Odéon label, featuring a selection of songs written by Brassens. The album won the singer great acclaim. Indeed she was not only awarded the "Grand Prix du Disque", but also won "Le Prix d’interprétation". A new album for Philips ‘Barbara chante Barbara’ featured self penned songs. But it was her performance as a support act for Georges Brassens at Bobino in December 1964 when the public really began to notice her. On March 14 1965, the album ‘Barbara chante Barbara’ won the prestigious Académie Charles Cros award. At the close of the award ceremony, held at the Palais d’Orsay, an extremely emotional Barbara tore her award into four pieces which she presented to her technicians as a sign of her gratitude. On September 15 1965 Barbara began a stint as the headlining act at Bobino and thousands of fans flocked to see her. It was the series of Bobino concerts which inspired the singer to write ‘Ma plus belle histoire d’amour’ (My Greatest Love Affair), a song which she dedicated to her fans.
After a European tour and a duo-show with Moustaki at the Olympia (where they sung ‘La dame brune’). In 1970, Barbara made her acting début in ‘Madame’, a stage play written by Rémo Forlani. Barbara played the role of a prostitute who sets off for Africa in the hope of finding love. She also composed the music which accompanied the play. Unfortunately, the play ended its run without commercial success or critical acclaim. Barbara returned to her singing career, recording a new album orchestrated by Jean-Claude Vannier. In 1971 Jacques Brel, who had met Barbara in the early 50’s, asked Barbara to play a role in his film ‘Franz’. Barbara not only accepted the role, she would also write the film’s theme tune ‘Eglantine’. In 1972 a young up-and-coming singer by the name of Catherine Lara wrote two songs for Barbara. In 1973 she left her home in Paris and moved to the French countryside, settling in the village of Précis (in the Seine et Marne region).

All through the Seventies she kept on touring which led to a François Reichenbach produced a film of Barbara’s concert at the Olympia in 1978. A new Barbara album, ‘Seule’, was released in February 1981. Following the success of this album Barbara went on to perform in Pantin (in the Paris suburbs). A year later the French Culture Minister Jack Lang honoured Barbara’s long career by presenting the singer with the "Grand Prix National de la Chanson Française". That same year the Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov invited Barbara to perform with him at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. While Barbara performed her classic songs he invented a series of improvisations around them.  Barbara, or "La Dame en noir" (The Lady in Black), returned to the Théâtre de Châtelet in 1987, where she premièred her new song ‘Sid’amour à mort’, a tribute to those suffering from AIDS (Sida in French).
At the start of the Nineties the singer had to retire a while due to health problems. She did return once to stage at Theâtre de Châtelet in 1993 but at the time many fans were unaware it would be the last gig she ever did. In 1996 a new album saw the light simply called ‘Barbara ‘96’. Made with help of a.o. Jean Louis Aubert, Frédéric Botton and Luc Plamondon it proved to be an enormous commercial and critical success. Seriously ill she returned to her home in Précy-sur-Marne writing her memoirs. Meanwhile, Barbara continued to be extremely supportive of the Act-Up movement (a radical French association dedicated to raising AIDS-awareness). Later that year, on 25 November, Barbara died after being to the hospital suffering from respiratory problems. She was buried at Bagneux cemetery.

On the web:

- Fansite around Barbara: http://www.barbara-perlimpinpin.com/

- Barbara's grave: http://www.findagrave.com/

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What do we think:


Recommended albums:

- Barbara chante Barbara  (also called 'l'album à la rose') - 1964

- Le mal de vivre - 1965

- Le soleil noir   - 1968

- L'aigle noir  - 1970

- La fleur d'amour  - 1972  

- Amours incestueuses  - 1972  

- La louve  - 1973    

- Seule  - 1981 

- Barbara '96 1996

Further listening: Barbara chante Brassens  - 1960; Barbara chante Jacques Brel  - 1961; Barbara  3 - 1965; Bobino 1967  - 1967; Une soirée avec Barbara - 1969; Madame  - 1970; Enregistrement public au théâtre des Variétés - 1974; Enregistrement à l'Olympia   - 1978; Récital Pantin 81 - 1981; Chatelet 87 – 1987  
Gauguin - 1990; Châtelet 93  - 1993


♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided


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