We instantly think of France in relation to fine cuisine and wine. But when it comes to music, can you think of many French singers? Well, you’re not alone! However, that doesn’t mean that France hasn’t produced some incredible talent.
What may surprise you is that France has produced musical talent of epic proportions, just like fine wine. And although you may not recognize their names instantly, when you click on the video link, you’ll likely have that ‘Aha!’ moment.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 23 of the greatest and most famous French singers of all time. Let’s get started with one of the most loved ones: Edith Piaf.
1. Edith Piaf
Édith Giovanna Gassion is perhaps the most iconic of the voices of France. La Vie en Rose sings to audiences worldwide; even 76 years later, her songs resonate, and her voice still captivates.
Perhaps the reason behind the emotional drama in Piaf’s voice is that her entire life was fraught with trauma.
Piaf was sent to live with her grandmother who was a Madame and ran a brothel. When her father returned from WW1, he took her with him to perform on the streets of France.
She was discovered by a club owner while performing in Pigalle.
Her entire career remained on a rocky foundation; she became internationally renowned after WW2. She wrote and collaborated with composers on several of the songs she wrote the lyrics for and indulged in many affairs with famous men.
2. Nicolas Reyes
Surprisingly, Nicolas Reyes is not Spanish like his famous Spanish songs performed with the Gipsy Kings. Reyes has strong Spanish roots but was born in Arles, France.
Reyes’ unique and smokey voice turned him into one of the world’s most well-known flamenco singers and guitarists.
Though his music is influenced by traditional Spanish, flamenco, and Latin American rumba, he and his band added their contemporary spin, which launched them on the international scene with hits like Volare and Bamboleo during the 1980s.
3. Bertrand Cantat
Bertrand Cantat, frontman from the band Noir Desir, is perhaps as famous for his manslaughter conviction of French actress Marie Trintignant in 2003, for which he spent four years in jail.
But, he’s also known for being a singer and guitarist, and he and the band reached the pinnacle of their career during the 1980s and 90s, achieving platinum and gold status with their albums.
The Normandy native reunited with the band after his release from jail, which eventually disbanded in 2010.
Cantat and Noir Desir influence many rising stars like Cali, Louise Attaque, and Miossec. Perhaps you hear a bit of Talking Heads too?
Bruno Caliciuri goes by the professional singer name Cali and is an active participant in the French music scene. Born in Perpignan, Cali now makes his home in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
Influenced by Irish punk, Cali has produced three albums and has been a member of several bands. Bass, drums, and guitar traditionally accompany his rock-pop music style.
However, Cali likes to experiment with violin, sax, trumpet, and even trombone to add more layers to his sound and create a folk-jazz fusion.
The song (video) speaks to the disillusionment of adolescence and the lost dream of becoming a professional rugby player.
5. Christophe Miossec
Christophe Miossec took a few segues before producing an album with guitarist Guillaume Jouan.
However, he had enjoyed success touring in his hometown, Brest, with his teen band Printemps Noir, receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Literature, and eventually landing in Paris after a few unsuccessful stints in the working world.
His first minimalist album resonated with fans and sold over 90,000 copies launching Miossec into stardom. His second album failed to please his original fans and didn’t receive his first widespread success.
Miossec struggled to find his footing with the following six albums. For his fifth album, Miossec performed with the backing of a symphony orchestra which surprised his audience.
Miossec is perhaps the epitome perfectionist who has talent but is weighted by his insecurities.
7. Johnny Hallyday
Jean-Philippe Léo Smet, aka Johnny Hallyday, was born into occupied Paris during world war 2. He brought Rock n’ Roll to the main stage in France and is known as the French Elvis.
Hallyday’s career spanned over 57 years, recorded 79 albums, sold 110 million records to mainly French audiences.
His Wall of Fame includes five Diamond Albums, 40 Gold Records, 22 Platinum, and 10 Victoires de la Musique awards.
Aside from his many successes, Hallyday sang 540 duets, played the piano and guitar, and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
His French rendition of ‘Let’s Twist Again’ topped European charts. Jimmy Hendrix and The Experience opened for Hallyday in 1966, and Jimmy Page worked as a session musician on Hallyday’s album.
8. Eddy Mitchell
Christened Claude Moine in Paris, Mitchell took the pseudonym Eddy Mitchell and was a member of the band Les Chaussettes Noires and took on a bad-boy American image so popular during the 1950s.
Their first album was an instant success selling 2 million copies in 1961. He set out on a solo career in 1963.
Mitchell often recorded outside France and worked with notable musicians like Jimmy Page and famous UK drummer Bobby Graham. Whenever he recorded in the US, Mitchell worked with the most legendary (still) session musicians from that era.
Mitchell was a big fan of American movies and hosted a television program featuring American cinema.
9. Julien Doré
French singer Julien Doré was born in Alès (Gard, Occitanie) and is the founding member of the band Dig up Elvis. Highly educated in literature, Doré also became a band member of a cover band.
He also participated in the fifth season of Nouvelle Star and won against Tigane. Doré has released three successful studio albums with top-four rankings on French album charts.
In 2007 he was named the 15th sexiest man on Elle Magazine’s list. He also coached contestants on the French version of The Voice.
10. Sylvie Vartan
Although she was born in Bulgaria during turbulent times, Sylvie Vartan is a much-loved French singer. She was highly productive as a ye-ye (yeah-yeah) artist and often incorporated highly choreographed dance routines into her performance.
Vartan sold over 50 million records and graced the covers of 2000 magazines, more than Bardot and Deneuve.
She toured with her husband Johnny Hallyday during the 1960s and 70s with a vast audience. Under her recording contract with RCA, she was the second most prolific artist after Elvis.
In 2004 after a long hiatus, she transitioned to jazz and is a true icon in the French music industry.
11. Melanie Pain
French Indie-Pop Singer Melanie Pain was born in Caen. She performs solo and with the band Nouvelle Vague who discovered her accidentally.
She tours with Nouvelle Vague, a French new-wave cover band. Pain sings in French and English. In 2009 she released her first album with a guest appearance by Julien Doré.
Pain’s musical influences include The Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Nick Drake.
Isabelle Geffroy, known in the European music industry by the stage name ZaZ is a jazz singer who trespasses on soul and acoustic music and has a voice that sounds like a trumpet.
ZaZ studied music at the Conservatoire de Tours, focusing on violin, piano, guitar, and choral singing. Her style is influenced by the Four Seasons, Ella Fitzgerald, and Enrico Macias.
She toured Europe extensively, and her debut album reached double platinum. ZaZ has joined several bands and music groups, always bringing her unusual style to the mix.
In 2015 she won the Echo Award for best international female rock/pop artist.
Ken Samaras is a Greek-Scottish French-born rapper and hip-hop artist named Nekfeu. He’s a band member of L’entourage and 1995 and a list of other hip hop bands.
His debut solo album ‘Feu’ won the Best Urban Music Album in 2016, and his third album made the French top 20. Nekfeu appeals to his audience for his highly personal and politically loaded music.
He dipped his toe into the acting world and starred opposite the legendary Catherine Deneuve.
In his hit single, ‘Tricheur,’ Nekfeu collaborates with Belgian rapper Damso. He’s also performed with Ed Sheeran.
14. Eddy de Pretto
Eddy de Pretto is a non-genre singer who likes to focus his songs about growing up in Beaulieu where many of the stereotypes he addresses are rooted. Beaulieu is a fringe town or ghetto, and de Pretto lived under pressure he’d never surmount to anything.
His mother enrolled him in theater because he didn’t enjoy sports, which introduced him to acting, singing, vocal training, and piano.
He acted in commercials and small films.
Pretto’s songwriting career found its wings when he turned 18 and made his first singing debut doing his rendition of R. Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly,’ albeit he later said his nerves were on edge.
In 2018 he sang with Julien Doré and was nominated in the Best Newcomer Stage Act category. Although he didn’t win, his song ‘Normal’ about his sexuality became a bestseller ahead of Julien Doré’s top song.
In reference to his pale complexion, Antoine Valentinelli took on the stage name Lomepal as a moniker. He grew up in Paris 13th arrondissement, famous for its vibrant cultural flair.
Lomepal is a rapper and hip-hop artist who has successfully recorded 5 EPs and two studio albums, ‘Flip’ and ‘Jeannine,’ certified double platinum records.
His prolific live performance schedule in 2017 garnered him 100 million YouTube views.
His third album is scheduled for 2022. Lomepal also excels at skateboarding.
Matthieu Chedid hides behind his famous name and uses the initial ‘M’ as his stage name. Chedid comes from a musical family. His father, sisters, and brother are active and thriving in the French music industry.
Chedid plays the bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, and the kazoo and is a rock singer. Chedid is the most awarded French singer having received 13 Victoires de las Musique. His portfolio includes numerous other awards: best video, best album, best tour, etc.
Hiding behind his famous name, M stands for Matthieu, pronounced ‘aime,’ meaning love. He grew up in the western suburbs of Paris. Chedid has collaborated with NTM, Sinclair, Sean Lennon, and famous French singer Vanessa Paradis throughout his performing career.
17. Vanessa Paradis
Vanessa Chantal Paradis is a household name in France. To cut the suspense, Paradis was a longtime partner of Johnny Depp.
She rose to stardom at 14 years when her single, ‘Joe le taxi’ took France by storm in 1987.
By the time she was eighteen, she had received the highest honor when she was granted the Prix Romy Scheider (actress) and Cesar Award for Most Promising Actress.
Her beautiful face has graced the cover of 300 magazines, including Vogue, Elle, Vanity fair, and her awards in her illustrious career are endless. Paradis was also the spokesmodel for Chanel.
She’s been the muse for many notable musicians like Lenny Kravitz, Serge Gainsbourg, and M.
18. Serge Gainsbourg
Lucien Ginsburg changed his name to Serge Gainsbourg, and his name is associated with many successful French musicians. Controversial for his time, his complex and scandalous music divided public opinion.
Gainsbourg is a multi-faceted artist, singer, songwriter, poet, pianist, writer, and filmmaker who transcended genres. He experimented with jazz, chanson, ye-ye, rock, funk reggae. His eclectic style and repertoire make Gainsbourg one of the world’s most influential musicians.
He wrote 550 songs and is a celebrated French icon in the music industry. He collaborated with Brigitte Bardot for the recording Bonnie & Clyde.
Jeanne Louise Galice goes by the stage name Jain. She is an accomplished singer and guitarist whose music is influenced by accompanying her father on work assignments to locations like Dubai, Congo-Brazzaville, and Abu Dhabi. She learned how to play drums in Pau, France.
French musician Yodelice invited her to Paris and produced many of Jain’s songs. In fact, Jain’s song ‘Come’ is Diamond-certified and popular in Spain and France.
Jain has performed on Stephen Colbert and Jools Holland shows. She also sang at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Jain also has a strong interest in music programming after meeting Mr. Flash, a French record producer. Additionally, Jain is a talented graphic/computer designer.
Maxime Rodolphe Nouchy, aka Maxim Nuccy, aka Yodelice is a famous French singer born in an eastern suburb of Paris.
Yodelice performs in English and received his early training for piano and guitar at a music conservatory when he was only six years. When he turned 15, he entered the London Musician Institute and became their youngest teacher on record in 1994 after graduating.
He has produced five albums and has a talent for acting. Yodelice has a child with singer Jenifer Bartoli.
21. Manu Chao
Jose Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao Ortea, aka Oscar Tramor, aka Manu Chao, is an amazingly talented French-born Spanish musician.
He plays keyboard, bass, guitar, and sings. His style is reflective of his multicultural heritage, Chao and sings in Spanish, French, English, Italian, Portuguese, and others.
His career began as a street busker and transitioned into Latin alternative, reggae, ska, and world beat. Influenced by British bands like The Clash, Chao has been a band member in several groups.
He performed with Toots & The Maytals (won a Grammy) and performed with music legends like Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Gwen Stefani/No Doubt, Bonnie Raitt, and Keith Richards.
22. Sandrine Piau
Sandrine Piau is a famous French soprano singer diva with an exceptional range and versatility, allowing her to perform complex operatic songs from Handel, Mozart, Debussy, Schumann, and Poulenc as well as Vivaldi.
Although she is dedicated to performing live operas, she also has an extensive studio portfolio. Studying at the Conservatory of Music in Paris, Sandrine initially followed her passion for the harp.
Her specialty is Baroque, and she has sung in several famous operas by Purcell, Mozart, Handel, Offenbach, and Weber.
Piau had the distinguished honor of receiving the Ordre des Artes et des Lettres from the Government of France in 2006.
23. Vincent Niclo
Vincent Niclo was born in Paris to a family of artists. This French pop opera tenor singer followed his passion for theater early, and he also studied modern dance.
Niclo performs classical crossover and pop opera and is a renowned radio presenter.
He had the distinguished honor of opening for Celine Dion on her tour. Niclo has performed at the Kremlin and toured with the Red Army Choir in 2013 for 37 concerts and received a triple Platinum Award for his performance.
Summing Up Our List Of Great French Singers
Rounding up 23 of France’s finest singers was a surprisingly interesting task. Our taste in music is generational and cultural, but exploring the cultural crossovers and the background connections is fascinating.
Who knew that American rock legends like Jimmy Hendrix and Jimmy Paige were hiding off stage?