2006 Cultural Cultural

Alain Bashung has said he was one of the first to introduce irony to Quebec song, to the tune of rock, blues, and country music. Over a career spanning more than thirty years, Robert Charlebois has become an icon of song, not just in Quebec but throughout the French-speaking world.

Charlebois was born in Montreal in June 1944. He made his debut in September 1962 – he was not yet twenty – opening for Félix Leclerc at La Butte à Mathieu.  In 1965, his song “La Boulée,” composed when he was just sixteen, earned him the Grand Prix at the Festival du disque.

In 1967, he spent three months in California, where he was strongly influenced by the counter-culture movement and met some of America’s leading rock musicians. His song “Lindberg,” a pure product of this period, created shock waves and cemented his reputation.

In 1968, he achieved his first great triumph in the memorable musical review L’Osstidcho, which spoke to the longings of a generation of anti-conformists hungry for change. Charlebois and his collaborators Yvon Deschamps and Louise Forestier took the cultural arena by storm with their boldness and provocative humour. Soon after, Charlebois was awarded the Grand Prix of the Festival de la chanson française in Spa, Belgium. In 1969, he appeared for the first time at the Olympia, Paris’s prestigious music hall another memorable performance. He then began a long series of tours including a famous cross-Canada railroad tour with key figures on the U.S. rock scene, including Janis Joplin, The Band, and The Grateful Dead.

At home in the theatre, on film, and behind the microphone, Charlebois is celebrated by both the public and his peers, continually astonishing critics and earning numerous prizes and distinctions: the Académie Charles-Cros award, the Médaille d’or from the Olympiades de la chanson, the Prix de la Ville de Paris, the Médaille de Vermeil from the Académie française, and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.  Finally, in 1993, ADISQ presented him with the Félix Hommage for his lifetime achievements.

Charlebois has left his mark on an era and on generations of artists – and he continues to do so – through his lyrics, his poetry, his explosive and diversified creativity, his thousands of performances, and his more than twenty albums.