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Obituary for Juliette Gréco: The Black Ferry Woman


Juliette Gréco embodied the French chanson like no other. Obituary for an artist who made contact with the younger generation of musicians even in old age.

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Juliette Gréco performing at the Palais des congrés de Paris in 1979


Pierre Guillaud / dpa

Maybe it's the hands that come to mind first.

Slender fingers that twist, draw circles, stroke the body and accompany an appearance that doesn't need anything spectacular to be spellbound.

And of course the black dress, the black trousers, the black sweater, the black hair - a color that, as she said, leaves room for the imaginary and is also a protection.

That was Juliette Gréco, who has now died at 93: the embodiment of the French chanson, who was too intellectual to be considered a popular singer and became a symbol of what constituted the dawn of post-war France.

Born in Montpellier in 1927, when she was sixteen she came to a Paris that appeared to her like a book with seven seals.

As young as she was then, she had already been through so much.

The father, a Corsican policeman, got up and away early;

The parents' marriage fell apart, and the mother, who joined the Resistance and was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp with Juliette's sister Charlotte, remained a stranger all her life.

Juliette herself was arrested and subjected to a body search - an experience that remained unforgettable: "The disgust and my sense of revolt have their origin here. My view of people has changed here forever."

No sooner had she arrived in Paris than she conquered the city and after the war became the figurehead of the new beginning.

In the cafes and bars she met almost all the leading intellectuals and remained a listener who enjoyed being part of these circles.

The label "Muse of the existentialists" was quickly stuck on her - a patronizing attribution by a man who ignored the fact that it was Juliette Gréco in particular who exuded the attitude towards life and the rebellion of that time.

The child of Saint-Germain-des-Prés

She was discovered as a singer at an early age, and since chanson was viewed as literature in France, great authors fought to write for her.

She sang texts by Raymond Queneau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Vian, Jacques Prévert, Françoise Sagan and François Mauriac, with whom her grandparents had been friends.

Incidentally, Gréco never interpreted Albert Camus texts - although this can still be read in many places.

"I consider myself neither a poet nor a writer," she wrote in her second autobiography, which was published in 2012, "That's how I am".

She saw herself as a "ferrywoman" and when she sang the words of others, she felt more freedom than if she had recited her own.

Juliette Gréco celebrated her chansons in such a way - and that was probably what made her real fascination - as if they had something to do with her.

Songs like "Si tu t'imagines", "Je suis comme je suis" or "Je hais les dimanches" became classics.

Right up to the wonderfully ironic "Déshabillez-moi", which in 1967 caused a tangible scandal.

The fact that she starred in over thirty films, worked with directors such as Jean Renoir and John Huston and thus fulfilled her first career dream is now rather forgotten.

She had one of her best appearances in Otto Preminger's film adaptation of "Bonjour tristesse", where she appears as herself at the very end and sings the theme song.

Over the years, Gréco remained in the collective consciousness the elegiac, inaccessible figure on the left bank of the Seine in Paris, the child of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

She did not want to live on as a "mummy", but rather to remain "part of life".

She emerged again and again from the career valleys she passed through, and made contact with the young generation of chansons around Benjamin Biolay and Bénabar.

Her private life also made constant headlines.

She was married three times;

In retrospect she found her second husband Michel Piccoli "a bit boring".

She saw herself as a revolting party for a lifetime, because a "wildcat", as she wrote, "cannot be grabbed by the tail".

In old age she withdrew from her beloved Paris, from whose iconography she is indispensable.

The city had become alien to her.

Now she died at the age of 93 in Ramatuelle in the south of France.

Icon: The mirror

Source: spiegel

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