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Les Frères Jacques

the members :

François Soubeyran
        Georges Bellec  André Bellec
Paul Tourenne

date of creation 1944
date of separation 1983

Tribute to the Brother's Jacques


info - vous écoutez -les Frères Jacques avec Brigitte BARDOT you are listening to « Stanislas » with les Frères Jacques and Brigitte BARDOT

text © RFI Musique 2004

The Frères Jacques, a vocal quartet who wove comedy, choreography and sketches into their popular stage shows, hold a very special place in the history of French chanson. The foursome, who enjoyed an extremely successful career spanning nearly 40 years, were much-loved for their song-and-dance routines and their striking stage costumes - colourful leotards, gloves, hats and black tights!

Once Upon a Time …

The four members of the Frères Jacques - brothers André and Georges Bellec, François Soubeyran and Paul Tourenne - launched their collective career in 1944. The Bellec brothers hailed from Saint-Nazaire. André, who was born on 12 February 1914, started out studying law but never practised at the bar, going on to spend several years in the army instead. After the Armistice in 1940, André launched his artistic career, working as a drama teacher on the "chantiers de jeunesse" (special youth activity groups). This post brought him into contact with various French theatre companies and he went on to sign up for several courses in singing, dance and mime.

André's brother Georges, who was born on 18 March 1918, followed a more artistic path from the word go. Georges was a passionate jazz fan who trained to be a trumpeter. During the war years he also enrolled at the prestigious "Beaux-Arts" school in Paris. In order to escape the "Service de Travail Obligatoire" (an organisation set up by the Germans which forced French workers to go and work in Germany), Georges ended up quitting Paris and joining his brother André on the "chantiers de jeunesse" in the South of France. Once the war was over, however, he immediately made his way back to Paris, resumed his studies at the Beaux-Arts and continued his promising career as a trumpeter. Georges's natural comic talent and his impressive voice made him an ideal candidate when brother André came up with the idea of forming a vocal quartet.

Besides enlisting the help of his brother Georges, André soon recruited a third member for his quartet - François Soubeyran, who was born in the luscious French countryside of the Drôme region, on 19 August 1919. François, who was called up to join the French army in 1939, went on to become an active member of the Resistance just three years later. When the war was over, François headed up to Paris where he enrolled in a drama course. Revealing a talent for singing, François went on to find work as an understudy, stepping in to replace singers in various operettas. André Bellec would make François's acquaintance thanks to the well-known French actor Yves Robert, who turned down André's invitation to join the quartet, but put him in touch with François instead.

The fourth, and youngest, member of the merry band was Paul Tourenne. Born in Paris on 25 February 1923, Paul got married and started a family at the age of 20. During the war years he worked for the postal service but launched an artistic career in his spare time. He got his first major break when he was spotted by a radio programme-maker performing at the work holiday camp he organised. One thing led to another and thanks to a recommendation from the programme-maker he was offered a job stage managing an orchestra. After the war Paul spent several years working at "Travail et Culture", a French cultural organisation which promoted the arts. It was here that Paul came into contact with André Bellec, who was working as an administrator at "Travail et Culture" at the time. André invited him to become the fourth member of his quartet and in 1944 the foursome were ready to launch what turned out to be an impressively long and successful career.

Music and Theatre 

Calling themselves Les Frères Jacques - derived from the French expression "faire le Jacques" ("to play the clown") - the foursome built their act around the concept of combining singing, dancing and comic sketches. Les Frères Jacques' first major career move was to join the Grenier-Hussenot Troupe, the first French theatre troupe to set themselves up after the war. It was while working with the Grenier-Hussenot Troupe that the foursome would meet Pierre Philippe. The latter was invited to become the Frères Jacques' pianist and was quickly accepted as the fifth member of the group. In fact, it was Pierre Philippe who was responsible for developing the Frère Jacques' distinctive sound, working the other members of the group into the ground as he meticulously ran through each number over and over again, tweaking it to perfection.

Another man from the French theatre world who played an essential role in the elaboration of the Frères Jacques' famous stage act was set designer Jean-Denis Malclès. It was Malclès who created the quartet's highly original - not to say rather camp - stage costume of hats (which changed several times throughout the show), gloves, black tights and body-hugging leotards (a different colour for each Jacques, of course!) Needless to say, the group's wacky stage costumes, largely inspired by traditional dance and mime wear, received instant attention, provoking shock and outrage in some quarters and squeals of amusement in others. The Frères Jacques remained oblivious to criticism throughout their career, retaining their black tights and leotards right up to their final stage performance in 1982! Malclès was also responsible for the Frères Jacques' stage décor which, like the group's stage costumes, underwent very few alterations in the course of their career.

Over the next few years the Frères Jacques built up their reputation in the capital, following a hectic - often twice-nightly - schedule of performing in theatres then taking their show to cabaret audiences on the Left Bank. The group's quick-fire humour, their inimitable style and their precisely-choreographed stage routines - not to mention those eye-catching costumes! - rapidly made them the talk of the town.

The Frères Jacques scored their first major hit in 1946 at Agnès Capri's Cabaret with a song called "L'Entrecôte" (The Rib Steak). Like many of the songs in their subsequent repertoire, the song was inspired by a banal story of everyday life, the group's absurdist humour weaving the most hilarious stories around the most unlikely subject matter.

The First 78s

The Frères Jacques performed their first "Music Hall" at the Folies-Belleville in 1947. But the quartet would really go on to make a name for themselves at the "Rose Rouge", establishing themselves as the cabaret's star turn over the next five years. It was on stage at the "Rose Rouge" that the Frères Jacques honed their first major hits - "le Manège aux cochons roses" (The Pink Pig Roundabout), "Nous voulons une petite sœur" (We Want A Little Sister) and the classic "Sérénade de la purée" (Mashed Potato Serenade). Following their success on stage at the "Rose Rouge", the quartet went on to record their first four-track 78 in 1948.

While continuing to perform regularly at the "Rose Rouge", the Frères Jacques' schedule was becoming increasingly packed with commitments. In 1949, for example, the quartet took part in the Compagnie Grenier-Hussenot's production of Georges Courteline's "Les Gaietés de l'Escadron" at the Théâtre de la Renaissance. Then in the autumn of that year the Frères Jacques went on to perform a successful five-month run at Bobino, appearing in Yves Robert's production of "Les Pieds Nickelés".

But the highlight of the Frères Jacques' career in 1949 was their encounter with Jacques Canetti, aka artistic agent at Polydor and Philips and famous French talent-spotter. Canetti not only signed the Frères Jacques up to record a series of new 78s, he also encouraged them to begin performing the work of Jacques Prévert and Joseph Kosma. Prévert (renowned for his poetic and highly literary songs) was at first extremely sceptical about the comic foursome performing his songs and the Frères Jacques themselves also hesitated a little, not feeling up to the challenge of performing Prévert and Kosma. However, in the end, Canetti's bold idea turned out to be a major success, the Frères Jacques even going on to win the Grand Prix du disque in 1950 for their recording of Prévert's song "L'inventaire". Thanks to Canetti's influence, the quartet also went on to record four new 78s, thus widening their renown beyond the confines of the Paris music world.

The First Tours

1951 found the Frères Jacques embarking on their first major international tour, flying out to entertain audiences in North Africa in the first half of the year, before going on to travel round South America from July to September. By October the quartet were back in Paris, performing at their regular haunt, the "Rose Rouge", on 5 October 1951.

1952 marked something of a turning-point in the Frères Jacques' career, for it was from this point on that the group became real "music-hall" stars, their act having been elaborated to a proper two to three-hour show, complete with beginning, middle, finale and the famous stage décor designed by Jean-Denis Malclès. The group performed the première of their new stage show at the Théâtre Daunou in Paris in 1952.

Bowing to popular demand, the Frères Jacques soon began travelling more extensively, packing an impressive number of concerts into their hectic tour schedule. In 1952 the quartet flew out to Turkey then Lebanon, before heading off to Canada and the United States in April of that year. In 1953 the Frères Jacques continued their hectic schedule, touring with Line Renaud and hot new French chanson star Yves Montand. (In fact, the group kept up this busy schedule right through until the end of their career, spending several months on the road each year).

Somehow the foursome managed to take a break from their hectic tour schedule and record a series of new albums - which were beginning to sell increasingly well in the stores. The Frères Jacques also branched out into cinema in 1953, starring opposite Italian sex symbol Sophia Loren in Jean Boyer's film "Le Pays des clochettes".

In 1955 the Frères Jacques celebrated their tenth anniversary at the Comédie des Champs Elysées in Paris, the theatre where they had made their stage debut in 1945. Their show had certainly come a long way since the post-war years. Indeed, the Frères Jacques' new revue proved such a success between February and June 1955 that the Comédie des Champs Elysées invited them back for another run (from August to October). Bowing to popular demand, the Frères Jacques followed their Paris show with an extensive national tour, delighting audiences up and down the country with their hit revue. Outside France the quartet's popularity reached phenomenal proportions and the Frères Jacques soon went on to become as famous a Paris institution as the Eiffel Tower.

photo - les Frères Jacques - André Bellec, Georges Bellec, François Soubeyran et Paul Tourenne

New Reviews and Triumphant Tours

In 1956 the quartet appeared in the French operetta "La Belle Arabelle" (the last time they performed as part of another troupe). Directed by their old friend Yves Robert, the operetta included a score, which was co-written by the Frères Jacques' pianist Pierre Philippe and lyrics by the French actor/comedian Francis Blanche. "La Belle Arabelle" enjoyed a successful run at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, audiences flocking to see it right through until June 1957. The Frères Jacques followed their operetta experience with a totally different show, travelling round with the Tour de France, entertaining audiences in the French provinces.

The indefatigable quartet kept up their intensive working rhythm over the next few years. When the group were rehearsing material for a new revue, they would lock themselves away from the media and hone their music and stage choreography in utmost secret. When the show was ready the Frères Jacques would present it in Paris, often playing runs which lasted several months. Only then would the quartet take their new show on the road, setting off on extensive European and, finally, international tours. From the end of the 50s onwards this became the group's systematic way of working.

And this was exactly how the Frères Jacques proceeded at the end of '58 when they started rehearsing new material for their third major revue. When the preparation work was finally over, the group devoted the whole of 1959 and 1960 to the stage, performing their new show first in Paris, then the French provinces, followed by Europe and then the international scene. The Frères Jacques thus became four of France's most important musical ambassadors, representing France all the way from Tel Aviv to Tokyo!

The Frères Jacques versus the New Rock'n'Roll

In 1961 the group slipped back into their rehearsing-performing-in-Paris-touring-the-world schedule, launching themselves into preparations for their fourth major show. By now the Frères Jacques' style was well-established, only the songs and the choreography changing from show to show. While the quartet had started out as a ground-breakingly innovative group, by the 60s the Frères Jacques had become a classic French institution - which meant their modern style was beginning to lose its edge a little faced with stiff competition from the Twist and rock'n'roll flooding in from the States. And yet the loyalty of the Frères Jacques' fans never wavered, audiences flocking to see the foursome whenever they performed in France or abroad.

The Frères Jacques' hectic touring schedule continued through 1962 and 1963, leaving the members of the group little time for other activities. However, partway through '63, the group somehow found time to get together with a group of French actors and record a series of Molière's plays for the audio encyclopaedia published by Hachette. The group were back on the road again in 1964, though, and their new tour included a successful stint on the famous steam liner "France".

1964 brought serious upheaval for the Frères Jacques, pianist Pierre Philippe, who had been with the Frères for almost 20 years, announcing his retirement. The Frères were all the more sad to let Philippe go, as for many years they - like the press and the public - had considered the pianist as an essential fifth member of the group. However, Pierre Philippe stayed with the Frères Jacques over the next two years and the quintet performed one of their last shows together towards the end of '65, bringing the house down at the "Music Hall du Marais". After this the Frères reluctantly let Philippe go, replacing him with Hubert Degex in 1966. (Before joining the group, Degex attended the final run of shows with Pierre Philippe, learning the ins and outs of the show).

The Frères Jacques launched a new run of shows in January 1966 appearing in Lyon, then went on to perform a successful stint at the Théâtre Fontaine in September. Following in Pierre Philippe's footsteps was no easy task and it would take a few months before Degex imposed his own distinctive touch. Audiences began to warm to the new recruit fairly quickly, however, after he had the bright idea of adding a third pedal to his piano which gave him control over the show's lights!

In 1965 the Frères Jacques branched out in a new direction, performing La Fontaine's legendary fables. These comic morality tales from the 17th century appeared to have been written with the group in mind, so perfectly did the humour and timing suit their style.

Accolades and Awards

By this stage of their career the Frères Jacques had become leading personalities on the French cultural scene, so it came as no surprise to anyone when the group were made "Chevaliers des Arts et Lettres" in 1966. Surviving changing musical tastes in the 60s with apparently little trouble, the Frères Jacques kicked off a three-month run at the Théâtre Fontaine on 26 September 1968. The audience gave a warm welcome to the Frères Jacques' new show - the sixth in their career, and the first, which was properly masterminded by Degex. New songs such as "la Chanson sans calcium" (by Jean-Claude Massoulier), "Le fric" and "les Deux escargots" brought the house down. Following the success of their run at the Théâtre Fontaine, the Frères Jacques embarked on an extensive tour, which lasted throughout most of '69. The highlight of this tour was the group's first trip to the Soviet Union.

In 1969 the Frères Jacques also received one of France's ultimate accolades, winning the rarely-awarded "Prix In Honorem" from the Académie Charles-Cros for the ensemble of their work.

The Frères Jacques kept up their hectic tour schedule over the next few years, alternating international dates with various stints in Paris: i.e. the Bobino in 1970 (with Catherine Sauvage), Le Palais Royal in 1971 and the Théâtre Saint-Georges in 1972, where they premièred their seventh revue. The group also continued to come up with a constant stream of popular new songs, scoring hits with "Bon Dieu, où est ce peloton?" and "La Fanfare" as well as continuing to perform Prévert classics such as "la Pêche à la Baleine" and "En sortant de l'école".

After 25 years on the road, the quartet appeared to be as sprightly and exuberant as ever. Needless to say, their tireless song-and-dance routines and their body-hugging costumes meant the Frères had to stay in top physical form. Although all four Frères had turned 50 by this stage of their career, André, Georges François and Paul continued to leap on stage each evening oozing amazing energy and vitality.

In 1972 the Frères Jacques were invited to appear at the avant-garde Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, where their show proved a huge hit with younger audiences. Ironically, it appears that the older the Frères got, the more enthusiasm and affection they generated amongst younger generations.

In the spring of '73 the group took their seventh show on a major international tour, delighting audiences as far afield as New Caledonia and Tahiti! The Frères Jacques also went down well when they performed a mini-tour of British and American universities. In September '73 the group returned to Paris for a stint at Bobino. But the following year the Frères were back on the road once again, touring their new show round no less than 13 African countries! In fact, this tour was such a special event that in nearly all 13 countries the Frères Jacques were requested to perform in private for the president.

The Final Curtain

In 1975 the Frères Jacques set to work creating the eighth, and final, review of their career, maintaining their reputation for creating comedy from the absurd banality of everyday life with new songs such as "Les fesses" (Buttocks), "Les pompistes" (The Petrol Pump Attendants) and "Il fait beau" (Nice Weather We're Having). The Frères were fast approaching their sixties and some critics had started talking about their retirement - and from time to time the Frères even seemed to consider it themselves. Yet the group was to prove that they had many years - and several hundred shows - left in them yet.

In 1976 the Frères Jacques celebrated the 7,000th show of their career, performing at the Théâtre Antoine. Later that year the group took their eighth revue on an extensive tour of France and South America. The following year the indefatigable Frères hit the road again, performing numerous dates across Europe and Algeria. 1977 also found the Frères Jacques back in the theatre, the group teaming up with their old friends in the Grenier-Hussenot Company for a memorable musical based on life in the Belle Epoque.

In 1978 the group made a final trip to Africa, where their popularity remained phenomenally strong. Following their success in Africa, the Frères Jacques performed a final tour round the Indian Ocean, delighting audiences in Madagascar, La Réunion and Mauritius.

1979 marked the beginning of the end for the Frères Jacques. On 16 October the quartet returned to the stage of their favourite theatre, the Comédie des Champs Elysées, to perform their ninth revue entitled "Récital d'adieu". Much to the delight of fans, the quartet - still dressed in black tights and traditional leotards - performed a run-through of their greatest hits and by the end of the show there was scarcely a dry eye in the house! The Frères Jacques went on to tour their farewell show extensively over the next two years, performing to audiences in France and neighbouring countries. The Frères travelled the length and breadth of France, performing in the tiniest towns in the outermost provinces, wanting to bid farewell to the maximum number of fans possible.

The Frères Jacques went into official retirement in 1982, but in fact the quartet performed their final concert in the spring of '83, bringing the house down at the Théâtre de Boulogne-Billancourt in the Paris suburbs.

Musical Heritage

Les Frères Jacques enjoyed a truly exceptional career on the French music scene, winning loyal admiration from fans and critics alike. The quartet also managed to achieve one of the longest-running careers in French music history, clocking up almost 400 songs, thousands of concerts and countless tours which took them to no less than 68 different countries! In the course of their career, the Frères Jacques performed at some of the world's most prestigious venues entertaining everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Queen Elisabeth II of England.

Needless to say, the group has become an integral part of France's musical heritage, spawning a whole host of heirs and descendants such as the group Chanson Plus Bifluorée and the 'comic-instrumental' string quartet Le Quatuor. Chanson Plus Bifluorée and Le Quatuor were among a host of artists who took part in a special Frères Jacques tribute show staged at the Casino de Paris (on 12 and 13 January 1996) to celebrate the group's 50th anniversary. Jazz-vocal ensembles TSF and Orphéon Célesta also took part in the show, as did their old friend and songwriter Ricet-Barrier. A number of special compilation albums were also released to mark the occasion.

The four members of the Frères Jacques have not slipped into idle retirement, however, each of them remaining remarkably active in their chosen domain. Georges Bellec has returned to his initial love - painting - and his work is regularly shown in exhibitions. François Soubeyran has returned to his native region, devoting his time and energy to making pottery and ceramics while Paul Tourenne continues his photographic career. (In fact, in the course of the Frères Jacques' countless tours he had already proved his talent in this domain). As for André Bellec, he chose to spend the first years of his 'retirement' managing a group of veteran French theatre and music stars.

Alternating between bawdy comedy and poetic and literary works written by the likes of Boris Vian, Georges Brassens, Raymond Queneau, Léo Ferré, Bernard Dimey, Jean Cosmos and Jean-Paul Sartre, the Frères Jacques created an exceptional mix of theatre, comedy and music, inventing a highly original style where costumes and choreography were every bit as important as their undoubted vocal talent.

On 21 October 2002, François Soubeyran died in Paillette-Montjoux (a small village in the Drôme region where he had retired). He was 83 years old. Meanwhile, the other members of the group remained highly active despite their retirement. Georges Bellec took up his old hobby, painting, again, hosting regular exhibitions of his work. He died on December 13 at the age of 94 years. Paul Tourenne continued his photography work (having already proved his talent in this quarter in the course of the group’s countless tours). He died at the age of 92 on November 20 in Montréal where he lived since many years. And, last but not least, André Bellec put his talents to good use, organising an association of retired performers.  He died on October 3 2008 at the age of  94 years.

With their repertoire ranging from poetic songs to more raunchy, ribald numbers – not to mention texts by famous writers including Boris Vian, Georges Brassens, Raymond Queneau, Léo Ferré, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bernard Dimey and Jean Cosmos - Les Frères Jacques created their own special mix of music and theatre, inventing a style where the visual side of things proved to be as important as the vocals.  

photo Paul Tourenne (les Frères Jacques) et Gérard Chambre 2014

Paul Tourenne and Gérard Chambre, Paris 2014
photos kindly offered by Patrice Tourenne

With great delight I present some photos of the meeting between Gérard Chambre (director of the Show « chez Maxim's ça Swing ») and the last of the « Frères Jacques » Monsieur Paul Tourenne in Paris this September. In Gérard Chambre's on words it has been a very touching moment for him personally - like singing a few extracts with Paul Tourenne and being surrounded by the clan of Les Frères Jacques. They are all looking forward to attend the Cabaret « che Maxim's ça Swing » chez Maxim's.

I like to express my thank you to Paul Tourenne's son Patrice Tourenne for his gentleness to have forwarded these photos to all our pleasure. In the name of all fans of the worldwide very popular Les Frères Jacques I send all best wishes to Paul Tourenne and wish him a wonderful and unforgettable evening chez Maxim's with Gérard and his splendid group
Opéra ma non troppo
Linda, webmaster

info - Chanson STANISLAS avec Les Frères Jacques et Brigitte BARDOT

photo Paul Tourenne with Gérard Chambre © Bertrand Dussart

J'ai ajouté sur cette page en extra, des photos des « les Frères Jacques », que j'ai trouvé sur le net - photos pour lesquelles je n'ai pas de permission particulière,hormis les photos de Monsieur Paul Tourenne et Gérard Chambre. Les photos ajoutées ici le sont pour le seul plaisir des fans des « les Frères Jacques » et non pour faire de l'argent ou quoique que soit d'illégal en France !
linda webmaster

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