André Verchuren: Populist ‘king of the accordian

 

In France André Verchuren was known as the king of the accordion. He belonged to the populist, crowd-pleasing school of virtuosi of the instrument known as the piano à bretelles – piano with straps – alongside Yvette Horner, dubbed “the queen of the accordion”.

There were, of course, rivals in the persons of Aimable, Marcel Azzola, Tony Murena, and Jo Privat and Gus Viseur, who enjoyed jamming with manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt and adding a dash of hot jazz or gypsy swing to their playing. Yet Verchuren reigned supreme and ruled the dance halls, the juke-boxes and the airwaves. His repertoire included tangos, pasodobles, waltzes and javas while his signature song, ‘’Les Fiancés d’Auvergne’’, referenced the origins of the bal musette genre created and popularised by late 19th-century migrants from central France to the capital.

“My life can be summed up with a few impressive figures: I travelled seven million kilometres by car, one million kilometres by plane, and sold over 50 million records. But most importantly, I made 17 million couples get up and dance,” Verchuren told Le Parisien newspaper in 1992.

Born André Verschueren at Neuilly-sous-Clermont, near Paris, in 1920, he strapped on his first accordion as a four-year old – “before I could write,” he stressed – and thus continued the family tradition started by his paternal grandfather, a Belgian miner with a sideline in bal des familles, and his father, who ran an accordion school. In his mid-teens, he began teaching at the school and gigging with his father and his mother on drums. In 1936, he won the accordion world championship, leaving audience and judges aghast by breaking with tradition and playing standing up. Until the advent of the Second World War, he juggled music commitments with work as a waiter and a gardener.

He joined the French resistance and sheltered Allied parachutists passing through the French capital, naming his eldest son Harry Williams after one of them. However, in 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the Dachau concentration camp where he spent a harrowing year. On 14 July 1944, he was badly beaten after encouraging fellow prisoners to sing “La Marseillaise”. In common with many veterans, Verchuren didn’t like talking about the war but was commended for his actions by both President Eisenhower and Général de Gaulle. In 1986 he was made Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian honour, and was promoted to “Officier” of the order in 1997. Other awards acknowledged both his role in the resistance and his standing as the country’s top accordionist.

Following the liberation, Verchuren struggled to recover the agility in his fingers but eventually returned to performing. In 1950, Murena put him forward for the Radio Luxembourg contest show Swing Contre Musette, which commanded a huge listenership. Appearing in front of an appreciative crowd at the Moulin Rouge, he beat the jazz combo and earned himself a record deal and a slot on the commercial station for the next 17 years – his radio career continued for another 13 years after he moved to RTL’s main rival, Europe 1.

Nicknamed “Verchu” by his millions of fans, in 1956, he became the first accordionist to appear at the Olympia, and returned to headline the famed Parisian venue in 2003 and 2007. He toured constantly, playing up to 150 shows a year, and pioneered the bal-music-hall concept, combining a dance band repertoire and a dynamic stage show with the odd skit. He also guested in popular films and was a mainstay of the French television schedules.

In 1968, he published his autobiography, predictably entitled Mon accordéon et moi. A cycling aficionado, in 1972, he recorded ‘’Vive Poulidor’’, a paean to Raymond Poulidor, France’s most popular cyclist of the day. But this punishing schedule took its toll. In 1974, Verchuren’s wife was killed in a car crash for which he was held responsible since he was driving.

“Dance halls, music and touring are like drugs to me,” he admitted. “As soon as I strap on the accordion, I feel like a different, younger man. It’s on stage I feel most alive. That’s what I live for.”

He finally retired last year; his death, aged 91, was caused by a heart attack. He had two sons, both of whom play the accordion professionally.

André Verchuren, accordionist, songwriter: born Neuilly-sous-Clermont, Oise 28 December 1920; married (two sons, wife died in 1974); died Chantilly 10 July 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones