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.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
Pistorius leaves Pretoria High Court to be taken to prison
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
Latest stories from i100
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

Cover Supervisor

£50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Randstad Education is looking to e...

Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Science Teacher - Maternit...

Systems and Network Administrator

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: We are recruiting for a Systems and ...

English Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album