Henri Gabriel Salvador was born in Cayenne, the capital of French Guyana, on July 18th 1917. His father, Clovis, of Spanish descent, and his mother, a Caribbean Indian, were both born in Guadaloupe.
When he was 7, Henri and his parents went to live in France. At around eleven years old, he discovered the music of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong and decided to become a musician. His parents bought him a guitar and he learned to play by listening to one of the masters of the period, Django Reinhardt. Throughout his career, jazz has been central to Henri Salvador's work.
In 1933, aged 16, he began to perform in the Parisian cabarets, where he became known very quickly, due his talent as a musician but also as a comedian. In 1935, he entertained the "Tout-Paris" at Jimmy's Bar, a famous cabaret of the period. After this, Django Reinhardt hired him as an accompanist.
In 1936, he became the guitar accompanist of the American jazz violinist, Eddy South. When he was twenty he enlisted as a soldier. War broke out and he had to wait until 1941 before he could cross into the Free Zone. He joined Bernard Hilda's jazz orchestra in Cannes, where he was spotted by Ray Ventura who offered him a job as a novelty musician in his orchestra. Together they left on a long tour of South America where, thanks to Henri Salvador, their shows were an huge success.
In 1942, in Brazil, he was offered a contract to star in a show. He accepted and for several months, performing in English to houses packed with G.I.s., he outshone touring American stars.
Enriched by this experience he returned to Paris at the end of the war. Ray Ventura again asked him to join his orchestra but Henri declined, preferring, in 1946, to start his own orchestra. Once again, literary and artistic Paris came in droves to hear him.
Famous now, he proposed to the director of Bobino that he do a one-man show. It was a success.
In 1947, he co-starred with Ludmilla Tchérina and Yves Montand in the operetta, Le Chevalier Bayard at the Alhambra.
In 1949, he was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque by the Académie Charles Cros and performed at the temple of the Paris music halls, the ABC, in Mistnguett's revue, Paris s'amuse. It was at the ABC that he met Jacqueline, who became his wife and impresario. The same year, he released "Le loup, la biche et le chevalier", to become a Salvador standard under the title "Une chanson douce".
Henri Salvador gave more and more concerts, in France and abroad. In 1954, he performed to a full house at the Salle Pleyel. The following year, he did a six month season of recitals in Paris.
In October 1956, he left for the United States, where the famous television personality Ed Sullivan invited him to appear on his show twice. A natural stage performer and genuine "showman" in the American sense of the word, "Fire Ball" (as the Americans called him) had the New York critics eating out of his hand.
On his return to France, he met Boris Vian, with whom he was to compose more than 400 songs. The hallmark of the duo's repertoire is a certain acid wit and influences such as rock'n'roll, then hardly known in Europe. With Vian, Henri Salvador (under the pseudonym of Henri Cording) wrote blues numbers ("Blouse du dentiste"), rock songs ("Rock and roll mops") and French Caribbean biguines ("Faut rigoler"). In 1959, Boris Vian's sudden death was a terrible blow to Salvador but, as resourceful as ever, he continued singing and dancing nightly to full houses at the Alhambra.
In 1961, following a twelve week stint on Italian television which was a huge hit, he decided to devote himself entirely to TV appearances. In 1962, Henri and Jacqueline founded their own music publishing business and had their first hit with "Le Lion est mort ce soir.
In 1964, Salvador started his own record label, "Rigolo", on which he released numerous hits, the first of which was "Zorro est arrivé", followed, from 1965 to 1968, by "Syracuse", "Le travail c'est la santé and "Juanita Banana".
In 1968, Henri Salvador made his television come back with the gala production, Salves d'Or. The show was such a success that, with his wife, they produced four others until the end of 1969.
In 1971, Walt Disney studios backed Henri Salvador for the promotion of his song, "Les Aristochats", inspired by the Disney feature cartoon released in 1968. Salvador, who had recorded the song on his own in a makeshift recording studio at home, was awarded the Academie Charles Cros prize for the song.
The following year, Jacqueline and Henri Salvador's company expanded further. The couple set up their own distribution network. In 1973, he made another triumphant return to television, presenting Dimanche Salvador, a Sunday lunchtime show. At the same time he was becoming increasingly popular with children. His rendition of La Fontaine's fables and his album, "SnowWhite and the Seven Dwarfs", were a huge success.
On Christmas Eve in 1975, he presented a gala TV show on the 2nd Channel. Two years later, he signed a contract with TF1, the 1st French channel, for a series of three shows, including one specially for children and sponsored by Walt Disney. The same year, he released a three disc box set of his greatest hits, "Le Monde Merveilleux d'Henri Salvador".
In 1978, he spent his time recording a new album, "Les Canotiers", and presenting a summer show on television, "C'est l'Eté". In 1979, he brought out an album in tribute to his friend Boris Vian, on the twentieth anniversary of his death. He performed the songs on television on the 2nd Channel in November in a special show directed by Jean-Christophe Averty.
In 1980, he released a new album, "Salvador en fête". In 1981, apart from a few new songs released as singles, he released 'best of' albums and albums for children. In November 1982, Henri Salvador made his stage come-back at the Grand Chapiteau, a huge circus tent, at the Porte de Pantin. For sixty consecutive nights he played to packed houses, accompanied by the biggest names of French jazz, including Maurice Vander and Eddy Louiss. The same year, he left RCA, his record label since 1977, and signed with DISC AZ with whom he brought out two live albums.
In 1985, he again changed record label, signing this time with EMI Pathé Marconi, with whom he immediately brought out "Henri", his first album of new material since 1978. In October, he gave a series of concerts, jazzy in feeling, at the Palais des Congrès. Billed as his farewell performances, these recitals were released as a double live album in 1987.
After his wife Jacqueline's death, Henri Salvador married Sabine Elysabeth Marie-Chantal in May 1986.
In December 1987, the SACEM (The Society of Authors and Composers) awarded Henri Salvador the Grand Prix de l'Humour. A year later, in October, President François Mitterrand made him a knight of the Legion d'Honneur.
1988 ended with another Salvador television spectacular on TFI, with prestigious guest stars such as Al Jarreau and Tom Jones.
In 1989, he brought out the album, "Des Gouts et des couleurs" and in 1990 he signed with the Carrère Music label for the release of an eight CD compilation of his whole career, which came out in 1991. In 1992, Henri Salvador returned to his first love, jazz, and gave concerts in the Paris jazz clubs.
In 1994, Henri Salvador recorded his next album in New York, released on Sony Music's Tristar label. Backed by excellent American musicians, Salvador went back to his roots, the blues. The lyrics were by names like Boris Bergman, Jean-Claude Vannier, Gerard Presgurvic, but also by departed friends, Bernard Dimay and Boris Vian. He even did a cover version of Eric Clapton's "Layla".
He promoted the new album with a series of concerts at the Casino de Paris and brought out a book of memoirs, co-written by writer Jean Curtelin, and published by Lattès.
Room With A View
Poet and humorist with an unmistakable laugh, Henri Salvador's trademark is his good-humoured brand of swing. At the "Victoires de la Musique" awards in 1996, at 79 years old, he yet again demonstrated his eternal professionalism and enthusiasm during a fabulous duo with American singer Ray Charles.
After disappearing from the forefront of the French music scene to indulge in several years' farniente and the occasional game of pétanque, Salvador made a welcome comeback in October 2000 with a hugely successful album entitled "Chambre avec vue" (Room With A View). Salvador's new album, which featured thirteen delicious tracks, all with a strong Brazilian influence, was the work of a talented new songwriting team which Salvador had discovered through his 'artistic' director, Marc Domenico. A number of rising young songwriting stars came to light on "Chambre avec vue" including Keren Ann, Art Mengo and Thomas Dutronc. Dutronc's mother, Françoise Hardy, also got involved with Salvador's new album, writing material for the singer and even recording a duet with him.
Inspired by the general creative buzz going on around him, the 83-year-old singer also sat down and put pen to paper, writing new material for the first time in years. Released on October 17th 2000, "Chambre avec vue" won rave reviews from the critics and also scored a huge hit with French record-buyers, going gold within weeks of its release.
After more than six decades on the French music scene, Salvador was finally honoured by industry professionals at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards, held in Paris in February 2001, where he was voted 'Best Male Artist of the Year'. His album, "Chambre avec vue", also carried off the award for 'Best Variété Album of the Year'. On October 8th 2001, Henri Salvador received another prestigious award to add to his collection when President Jacques Chirac made him a "Commandeur de l'Ordre national du mérite" at a special ceremony at the Elysée Palace.
2001, the year of his comeback on the front stage, was undoubtedly a memorable year for Salvador. He set off on tour around France with a stopover at the Olympia on April 24-27, following his performance at the Bourges Spring Festival. In July, he continued on this hectic pace, having hardly a minute to spare. Either at the Vieilles Charrues Festival in Brittany, at the Nyon Festival in Switzerland, or at the Jazz Festival in Nice, crowds of fans gathered to acclaim the dashing 80-year-old Chanson star. Delighted by this warm welcome back, Salvador was not to get off the stage and continued his touring around France in October. He settled down at the Theatre du Châtelet in Paris for the Christmas holidays. On top form and beaming with his the renewal of his public success, Salvador got married to his partner Catherine Costa, the television producer, in November 2001.
Monsieur Henri continued his tour throughout the spring of 2002, playing dates in Brest, Monaco and Toulouse in March and April of that year. In July he hit the festival circuit, performing at the "Francofolies" festivals in La Rochelle and Montreal. Taking things at a slightly slower pace now that he is in his eighties, Salvador nevertheless jetted off to a variety of international destinations after his festival appearances, performing in New York, Tokyo, Martinique and Guadeloupe. The singer also gave his very first live performance in his homeland, French Guyana.
In October 2002, Salvador put in an appearance on the Gipsy jazz guitarist Bireli Lagrène’s album "Gipsy Project & Friends." In mid-December of that year, the singer with the most infectious laugh in French showbiz history, arrived in the hall of fame at the Musée Grévin (the famous waxworks museum in Paris).
Salvador headed back to the studio in January 2003 to record a new album entitled "Ma chère et tendre" (a tribute to his ‘tender and dear one,’ Catherine Tosca). The talented singer-composer wrote twelve of the fourteen songs on the album himself, most of which were in the same jazzy/bossa/blues/pop vein as those on his previous album. Keren Ann and Benjamin Biolay, the two young songwriters who had so greatly contributed to the success of "Chambre avec vue," were only involved in writing lyrics for two songs on the new album (the title track "Ma chère et tendre" and "Ailleurs"). Salvador appealed to an older generation of songwriters instead, soliciting contributions from Guy Béart, Bernard Dimey, Michel Modo, Jean Drejac, Maurice Pon and Robert Nyel.
2004 turned out to be an award-packed year for Monsieur Henri. On 5 February, the UNAC (France’s National Union of Songwriters and Composers) presented the singer with a lifetime’s achievement award. And on 11 April, Salvador received even greater recognition, when he was awarded the ‘Légion d'honneur.’
The French President Jacques Chirac presented the singer with the honour at an official ceremony organised in June 2004. The rest of the year was largely taken up with touring, Salvador hitting the road on 31 January for a major French tour which included an extended run at the Palais des Congrès, in Paris (6 - 15 February) where he performed on stage with some fifty musicians. November saw the release of a live album entitled "Bonsoir amis", recorded at the Palais des Congrès where he returned on 11 and 12 February of the following year for two special performances.
2005 was declared the Year of Brazil in France with celebrations of Brazilian art, music and films organised across the country. Henri Salvador, chosen as the official patron of the Year of Brazil, took to the stage with the music star and Brazilian culture minister Gilberto Gil on 13 July 2005. The pair took part in a giant free concert organised at the Place de la Bastille, in Paris, performing a joint version of "Jardin d'hiver". In November, Salvador headed out to Brazil where he received the Brazilian Order of Merit from President Lula at a special ceremony attended by Gilberto Gil.