France has a long and rich history of producing some of the world’s most talented singers. From Edith Piaf to Josephine Baker, and in genres as varied as indie to pop to rock, these women have achieved worldwide success and left a lasting legacy in the music industry.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the greatest and most famous French female singers of all time.
1. Édith Piaf
Up first we have Édith Piaf who was born in 1915 in Paris and went on to become one of the most famous French singers of all time.
Her childhood can only be described as unstable. After her mother abandoned her at birth in Paris, she lived with her maternal grandmother. Later, the prostitutes at her paternal grandmother’s brothel helped to care for her.
As a teenager, she joined her father in his street acrobatics, where she began to sing. But it wasn’t until 1998 that she released perhaps her biggest hit, “La Vie en Rose”, was accepted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Another one of her hits, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” is still considered a classic and is featured in many films.
2. Carla Bruni
Throughout Carla Bruni’s childhood, there was no shortage of music as her mother was a pianist, and her father a composer.
Though born in Italy, Bruni entered the spotlight in France when she married Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France from 2007-2012, in 2008.
After she left the fashion industry, the world was surprised to find itself falling in love with Bruni’s music and her first album, Quelqu’un m’a dit, sold over 2 million copies.
In 2004, she won the European Border Breakers Award for international success. Additionally, she founded the Carla Bruni-Sarkozy Foundation to provide widespread access to knowledge.
As a baby, Dalida caught an eye infection. To comfort her while she wore bandages for 40 days, her father played her lullabies on his violin.
Dalida was born in Egypt and became “Miss Egypt” before moving to Paris in her early 20s. Once there, she performed “yé-yé” style French rock music and disco with her shows at Olympia, a concert hall in Paris, sold out frequently.
Dalida’s music is still enjoyed worldwide and she sang in 10 languages and sold 170 million records around the world.
She was also the first singer awarded a diamond disk for selling over 45 million records.
4. Vanessa Paradis
After her birth in Paris in 1972, it wasn’t long before Vanessa Paradis’s career began.
At 8 years old, she was on a talent show called L’École des fans, then, her hit, “Joe Le Taxi”, was released when she was only 14 years old.
In 1990, she was awarded the best singer award at Victoires de la Musique.
There, she met Serge Gainsbourg, who wrote her album titled Variations sur le même t’aime.
She was also quite popular with English songs, such as “Be My Baby”.
This hit reached number 5 in France and number 6 in the UK.
5. Christine and the Queens
Héloïse Letissier or more commonly known as Christine and the Queens was born in Nantes, France, in 1988.
From an early age, she learned the piano, classic dance, and modern jazz but, it wasn’t until she watched drag queen musicians in London that she first showed a real interest in music.
Her debut album which was released in 2014, is titled Chaleur Humaine and four years later she followed up with Chris, an album highly influenced by ‘80s and R&B sounds. This album reached number 2 on the French charts and number 3 in the UK.
A member of the LGBTQ singing community, she is well-known for challenging gender stereotypes through her music, and she identifies as pansexual.
6. Josephine Baker
Life was never easy for Josephine Baker. As a black woman born in Missouri during a time of intense racial segregation, she couldn’t find her place and ultimately moved to Paris.
Throughout her life, she fought for civil rights, and she became the first black woman featured in France’s Panthéon mausoleum of revered historical figures.
Baker took the entertainment industry by storm, as well. When opening at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, she was nearly nude and danced erotically. Although this offended some, she became famous overnight.
Later, she would go on to star at the Folies Bergère, a cabaret music hall in Paris.
Alizée was born and raised in Ajaccio, Corsica, France. There, she attended a famous dance school called the ecole de Danse Monique Mufraggi.
After winning the Graines de Star talent show, Alizee’s singing career took off. She became a famous pop star when the film, A Good Year, featured her song, “Moi…Lolita”.
Most of her fame is attributed to Gourmandises, her debut album which went on to sell over 1 million copies. She also sings the hit song, “L’Alize” and was the highest-selling French female singer in 2001.
8. France Gall
Born in Paris in 1947, France Gall was surrounded by music from her childhood – her father was a famous songwriter and her mother was a singer.
In 1963, she auditioned for the publisher, Denis Bourgeois, who signed her on the spot.
Her first single, “Ne sois pas si bête”, sold 200,000 copies and her second single, “N’écoute pas les idoles”, stayed at the top of French charts for 3 weeks.
As a member of the original yé-yé girls, Gall brought fame to the new pop, paving the way for it to enter onto the charts. She brought a gentle and naive side to the group.
9. Brigitte Bardot
Although her family had a great deal of money, Brigitte Bardot did not enjoy living with her father during her childhood in Paris. She felt that her father’s behavioral standards were too strict.
However, her discipline helped her as she attended ballet school as a teenager.
Most of her fame on the singing scape centered around collaborations with Serge Gainsbourg, Bob Zagury, and Scha Distel.
Some of the most famous include “Harley Davidson”, “Je Me Donne À Qui Me Plaît“, and “Bubble gum”.
10. Françoise Hardy
Born in Paris, France in the 1940s, Françoise Hardy’s childhood was engulfed in World War II and its aftermath.
She lived with her mother and sister, and money was always an issue but her absent father gifted her a guitar at her graduation.
In 1962, Hardy released her debut hit, “Tous les garçons et les filles” and became a force in yé-yé pop culture.
In 2006, she was awarded the Grande médaille de la chanson française honorary by the Academie française for her career as a musician. Throughout her career, listeners adored her breathy alto sound.
11. Mylène Farmer
Mylene Farmer was born in Canada but moved to Chaville, France with her family when she was 8 years old.
Her school there required that she took speech classes because her Québécois accent was considered “improper.”
She rose to fame with her first single, “Maman a tort”, in 1994. In the early stages of her singing career, she was considered a pop diva and known for her pop melodies.
When she released the dance hit “Oui … mais non”, the world was pleasantly surprised.
To date, she is the best-selling French singer since 1984. Additionally, her greatest hits album became the highest-selling compilation album by a French recording artist after selling over 2 million copies.
12. Hélène Ségara
At age 14, Hélène Ségara decided to move from Italy to France. She was committed to starting a singing career, and she began by performing at piano bars on the French Riviera.
In the beginning, Ségara didn’t experience much success with her music. Then, in 2000, after surgery on her vocal cords, she released her second album, which topped the charts.
Her fourth album, “Quand l’éternité …” reached gold status 3 months after its release. “Méfie-toi de moi”, with a definitive rock sound, also became quite popular.
Isabelle Geffroy, or Zaz, remained in her hometown of Tours, France as she studied music theory at the Conservatoire de Tours.
From ages 6 to 11, she practiced violin, guitar, and choral singing. She then moved to Bordeaux, where she attended the Centre for Musical Activities and Information on a scholarship.
Initially, Geffroy performed in blues and jazz bands, and she later transitioned to a solo career as a pop artist.
Her first hit, “Je veux” went double platinum with the full album being released in 2010. That year, L’Internaute carried out a survey that declared Zaz the most popular French singer of 2010.
14. Charlotte Gainsbourg
With famous french male singer Serge Gainsbourg as her father, it is no wonder why Charlotte Gainsbourg began singing at such an early age.
When she was 12, she and her father sang “Lemon Incest”, which raised questions about a potential pedophiliac relationship between the two.
Though she was born in London, Gainsbourg’s fame grew in France, where she attended boarding school as a child.
She was most well-known for her acting, but her second album brought success in music. This album, titled “5:55”, went platinum in France and reached the top of French charts.
15. Claudine Longet
Claudine Longet was born in Paris, but she moved to America at the age of 19. She became famous in America when she dated the former Olympic skier, Spider Sabich. Following his death in 1966, she was charged with negligent homicide.
Her debut album released in 1967, “Claudine,” climbed to number 11 on the US Billboard pop albums chart. It sold over 500,000 copies, earning it gold status.
Later, 2 additional albums were within the top 50 on the same chart.
Summing Up Our List Of Great French Women Singers
For over a century, French women have tackled tough issues and fought for their beliefs.
Whether through messages in their music or activity outside of their singing careers, these women have advocated for civil rights, animal rights, and accessible knowledge and challenged traditional female roles and gender stereotypes.
With a passion for social change, these impressive French women have shaped the music industry and civilization as a whole.