Henri Salvador: France's 'Monsieur Joie de Vivre'

The television appearances of the entertainer Henri Salvador brightened up many a childhood in France throughout the Sixties and Seventies. He was best known as a performer of catchy novelty songs such as "Zorro Est Arrivé" (a version of the Coasters' "Along Came Jones" which cashed in on the Western craze), the ode to laziness "Le Travail C'est La Santé", the nonsensical "Juanita Banana" and "Mais Non Mais Non" (a French version of "Mah Na Mah Na", the Piero Umiliani ditty subsequently made famous by The Muppet Show). Salvador was an effervescent, joyful presence, capturing the mood of a nation discovering the delights of the consumer society.

But there was a lot more to him than infectious laughter, a talent for mugging and the Dick Emery-style drag comedy routines, with pigtails and a bunch of bananas. He was also a velvet-voiced, Nat King Cole-like crooner and jazz guitarist and, under the pseudonym "Henry Cording", introduced France to rock'*'roll when he collaborated with the writer Boris Vian and the composer Michel Legrand on the single "Rock and Roll-Mops" in 1956. Vian and Salvador worked on hundreds of songs together, in a variety of styles, including blues (the pun-heavy "Blouse Du Dentiste") and beguine ("Faut Rigoler").

The short colour 16mm films Salvador made for Scopitone ("video" jukeboxes that were all the rage in French cafés in the Sixties) were forerunners of the pop promos, and he also played his part in the gestation of the bossa nova genre and its popularity in French-speaking countries and beyond. A keen pétanque player and advocate of the farniente ("doing nothing"), he nevertheless remained active well into his eighties and released one of his most successful albums, the appropriately titled Révérence ("Bowing out") in 2006. "I don't sing, I whisper," he once said of his silken, honeyed voice. "When you whisper into the mike, you are able to transmit real feeling. My philosophy is, don't hurry, don't worry and always believe in the future."

Born in Cayenne, in Guiana, the French enclave in South America, in 1917, Henri Salvador was the middle child of a municipal tax collector of Spanish descent, who had met and married Henri's mother in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. In the mid-Twenties, the family moved to Paris and Henri Salvador discovered jazz when a cousin played him records by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. "I fell in love with their music," Salvador said. "At age 12, I found my calling." He convinced his father to buy him a guitar and played constantly, "17 or 18 hours a day, until my fingers bled".

The hard work paid off when he went from playing Pigalle bars to touring France with the American violinist Eddy South. He also worked with the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. "He looked at me and said: 'Who's the little boy?' He didn't see me as competition," Salvador recalled, "but I knew he was impressed when he changed where we sat on stage so that I couldn't see what chords he used."

His career was interrupted by the Second World War but he kept playing and left France with Ray Ventura, the Jewish bandleader who had managed to get work in South America in 1941. Salvador's gift for languages and comic ability helped Ventura's orchestra get across to Brazilian audiences. "Our shows there were poorly received but I saved them," he said. "We were doing so badly that Ray sent me out as a novelty act. We were dying, so I did a Popeye impersonation. The audiences loved it."

A natural mimic, Salvador developed the comedic side of his act and became a popular figure in Brazil. He struck up a friendship with Antonio Carlos Jobim and influenced the bossa nova style the Brazilian musician developed after listening to Salvador's languid song "Dans Mon Ile" in 1958. "When I recorded that little tune, holed up in my apartment in Paris, I could never have imagined it would change musical history," Salvador remarked. "For me, it was an extraordinary stroke of luck, and a great honour." He was given the honorary title of ambassador for Brazilian music in France by the singer, and Brazilian minister for culture, Gilberto Gil. Salvador duetted with both Gil and the singer Caetano Veloso on Révérence.

Salvador often used Quincy Jones as arranger on his recording sessions in the late Fifties and early Sixties. In 1956, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in the United States but he subsequently concentrated on the French market with a succession of novelty hits accompanied by the requisite proto-MTV visuals. "There was a company, Scopitone, who put machines in every bar," he explained. "For a franc, you could watch a video. You've just had a hard day at work, you want a drink, you want to be entertained. So I made 17 films to make people laugh."

His second wife Jacqueline Garabedian was the architect of Salvador's mainstream success and managed his move from cabaret into television with shows such as Salves D'Or (1968) and Dimanche Salvador (1973). In the Seventies, his popularity reached new heights when he recorded "Les Aristochats", a song inspired by the Disney feature cartoon The Aristocats, and he made several albums of songs and stories for children. His French television specials saw him duetting with everyone from Tom Jones to Shirley Bassey via Al Jarreau. But he remained modest about his standing in French chanson and other musical genres. "I don't care a bit about that. When we disappear, the world still keeps turning. We are nothing". In 1988 he was appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by President François Mitterrand. Salvador published an autobiography, Toute Ma Vie, in 1994.

At the turn of the millennium, by now in his eighties, Salvador thought about retiring, but instead began collaborating with a new generation of songwriters, including Keren Ann on the album Chambre Avec Vue (2000), which sold two million copies around the world.

Last year, the entertainer the French called "Monsieur Joie De Vivre" finally made his British television début on the BBC's Later . . . with Jools Holland, performing "La Vie C'est La Vie". With a dark suit and yellow tie, he still cut a dapper figure. After his farewell concert in Paris in December 2007, he said, "I am the only one who can bow out while still alive."

Pierre Perrone

Henri Salvador, singer, songwriter and actor: born Cayenne, French Guiana 18 July 1917; four times married (one son); died Paris 13 February 2008.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?