Sylvie Vartan


15 August 1944

Sylvie Vartan was born in Iskretz, Bulgaria. Her parents were originally from Georgia and worked for the French embassy. Sylvie has a seven years older brother named Eddie. After Bulgaria had been invaded by the Soviets in September 1944, their house was confiscated and the Vartans had to move to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital city. A few year later, a friend of the family was making a movie about the war between Turkey and Bulgaria. He gave Sylvie a small part as a schoolgirl. This had a lasting impression on her and made her want to work in the entertainment industry. Due to changing circumstances in Bulgaria, the Vartan family decided to leave the country; they emigrated to Paris, France in December 1952.

The first years in Paris, the family lived in hotel rooms. Young Sylvie and Eddie did not speak French, so this must have been a difficult time for them, growing up. It was not before the early sixties that things got better, when the Vartans moved to their own apartment on Michel Bizot Avenue. The apartment was located right above the apartment of Franck Ténot, a good friend of Eddie, who shared their interest in jazz music (Eddie played the trumpet). During high school Sylvie enjoyed music as well: jazz, like her brother, but also rock 'n roll like Brenda Lee, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley.

Franck Ténot offered Eddie a job with the RCA record company. He arranged for Sylvie to record a duet with Frankie Jordan for his new album. Surprisingly, the album 'Panne d'essence' became a hit. RCA wanted to make the schoolgirl a star but her parents were against it. Their daughter had to finish school. Nevertheless, she quit school after all, when she finally signed a contract with RCA for a solo career. Her first record, 'Quand le film est triste', was released at the end of 1961. It was the French adaptation of 'Sad movies make me cry'. She was on stage for the first time at the Olympia in Paris on December 12, 1961. Sylvie quickly recorded other records such as ´Est-ce que tu le sais?' ('What’d I say?').

At her second Olympia performance, she met the 'French Elvis', Johnny Hallyday. For Johnny it was love at first sight, but Sylvie was far too serious to be interested in him. In the fall of 1962, she released the French version of 'The locomotion' and her first 33t. album, simply called 'Sylvie'. The following year she sang at the Olympia her first major hit 'Tous mes copains' and she appeared in the movie 'Un clair de lune à Maubeuge', which everyone quickly forgot. Johnny still tried to get to know her better and from February to March, they sang on the same tour. Eventually, they fell in love.

At the end of that year, the newly engaged couple visited New York, USA. Sylvie also went to Nashville to record a new album together with the Jordanaires (the same musicians who had worked with Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline). When released, it became a big succes and the album contained two huge hit singles: 'Si je chante' and 'La plus belle pour aller danser'. In 1964, Sylvie was on the program at the Olympia featuring Trini Lopez and the Beatles. Performing on stage between those two sensations, was definitely prove of how succesful Sylvie had become. Surveys from that time revealed that she was the most successful female singer, ahead of Françoise Hardy and Sheila.

Sylvie was one of the so-called 'Yéyé girls', a bunch of young French female singers who sang rock 'n roll songs (often French interpretations of American hitsongs). They sang, danced and dressed completely different than the old scene, that was dominated by the traditional French chanson. Although they were very succesful, they also encountered much prejudice from both press and audiences. One time Sylvie even had to leave the stage, when some male rockers destroyed chairs in the theatre.

At the end of 1964, Johnny joined the military. Sylvie worked a lot and made her real film debut with the movie 'Patate' ('Potato'). Meanwhile, she developed her musical style more and more. Her brother Eddie hired two brilliant musicians: drummer Tommy Brown and guitar player Micky Jones, who later became the lead singer of 'Foreigner'. The two of them wrote her first original songs, like 'Gonna cry' and 'I made my choice'.

Still unknown in the US market, she went back to New York to record her first American album, 'A gift wrapped from Paris'. The record was released in Germany, Japan, South America and the USA, but not in France. She promoted this album making several appearances on hit tv shows such as 'The Ed Sullivan show'.

On April 12, 1965, Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie were married in Loconville, where the Vartan family were established. The wedding ceremony should have been intimate but the priest couldn't keep it a secret, so hundreds of fans and 180 paparazzi invaded Loconville to attend the event. The next day, the couple was on the cover of all the magazines. August 14, 1966 Sylvie gave birth to a son, David. When she picked up her career, her mother took care of her son.

Johnny couldn’t get used to being a father. He preferred to go out with his old pals, so Sylvie looked after their son alone. Things were getting worse and she filed for divorce. Johny broke down and tried to commit suicide by taking pills. Eventually, they reconciled. In 1967, the couple decided to give some concerts at l’Olympia. There, they performed the duet 'Je crois qu'il me rend fou', a French version of the Ike & Tina Turner song 'Fool for your love'. Unfortunately, Sylvie got into a terrible car accident in 1968. In December, she was back on stage. She was no longer a timid young Yéyé girl but a terrific sexy dancer, more into cabaret than rock n' roll.

In 1969, Sylvie was the guest star of an Italian tv show called 'Doppia coppia'. In June of the same year, Sylvie faced the African public during a big tour in Senegal, Congo and Morocco. In February ‘70, Sylvie and Johnny recorded an album together, 'Les hommes', and intended to go on tour. But they were in a car accident when their car slid off the road and crashed. Johnny was okay but Sylvie was seriously injured. She spent several months recuperating in New York. During her recovery, Sylvie met Jojo Smith, Barbra Streisand's choreographer, who was at the beginning of a new start in her career. Sylvie developed the idea of combining singing and dancing at the same time, like on American tv shows. The serie of succesful shows took place at the Olympia and won a special award.

Sylvie and Johnny traveled through the USA. This trip was filmed by François Reichenbach 'Mon amie Sylvie'. Sylvie also made a real movie. She was a prostitute named Bets in 'Malpertuis', by Harry Kumel with among others Orson Welles. She thought she deserved a bigger part than she got and she decided that from then on, she would only accept parts that she found interesting.

In 1972, she came back to the Olympia with a new choreographer, Howard Jeffrey. She sang 'Proud Mary' and danced in 'Shaft'. She also sang a moving tribute to her deceased father, 'Mon père'. In 1973, Sylvie often sang overseas. In France, she recorded a new duet with Johnny 'J'ai un problème'. At the beginning of 1974, Sylvie and Johnny announced they were going to have another child. But in March, a miscarriage put an end to their joy. Afterwards, they tried to adopt a child but without success.

In 1975, Sylvie had a new producer named Jacques Revaux. Thanks to him, she was on the top of the charts with two songs 'La drôle de fin' and 'Danse-la,chante-la'. For the last ten years, she had only sung at the Olympia theatre. Now, she wanted a bigger stage so she could make her shows more elaborate. She finally found the funds in order to offer herself this bigger stage. Then, she began to work on a new show with the American choreographer Walter Painter, who worked with Elvis Presley on the movie 'Viva Maria'. All the shows on the tour were sold out. When she went to California on vacation with her son, Johnny stayed in France. The tabloids talked about a split, which was confirmed in a press statement by Johnny. Sylvie decided to stay away from France and its press. David even went to an American school. But in 1977, she returned to France.

During that same summer, she made another TV show 'Dancing Star' with Marie-Paule Belle, Jean-Cl. Brialy, Carlos, G. Lenorman and Michel Sardou. Her new choreographer was Claude Thompson. He created several dances for her brand new show at The Palais des Congrès. She danced the tango, disco and even performed a tap dance. Although a great visual spectacle, the quality of the music was not very impressing.

In 1978, Johnny released a biography 'Johnny talks about Hallyday' in which he told of his love for his wife. This seemed to dispel the rumors of their troubled marriage. In France, disco was the latest fashion. Sheila and the B. Devotion, Patrick Juvet and Karen Cheryl, all sang in English. RCA encouraged Sylvie to make a whole album in this language. Sylvie released 'I don't want the night to end' which met with little success in France, probably because Sylvie's fans wanted her to stay French. At the end of the year, all the tabloids announced Sylvie and Johnny's divorce. This was certainly not the first time, but this time it was the truth. Both of them had decided to put an end to their marriage. This was the end of a passionate relationship, scandals and tabloid gossip.

The Eighties were a new era for her. Her new album 'Bienvenue solitude' ('Welcome loneliness') appeared autobiographical. In spring 1981, Sylvie met Tony Scotti in Japan at a music festival. Tony was an American producer of Italian decent. Some years later, Tony and Sylvie would become husband and wife. He was known for producing 'Baywatch'. Sylvie started working on her new show with Claude Thompson. She rented Le Palais des Sports. The series of shows, starting in November, contained rock 'n roll songs, some of her old hits, but also some new songs and impressive cover verions like 'Enough is enough' (the Donna Summer-Brabra Streisand duet). Following the succes of these performances, she brought the show to Las Vegas with the support of Tony Scotti. Her billboard claimed she was "the best gift from France since the statue of liberty". At the premiere, Gene Kelly introduced Sylvie to her new American public. It was a great succes and a new milestone in Sylvie's career.

The following spring, she recorded three songs tigether with famous French singer Michel Sardou. The duet and album both went 'gold'. For her next album, 'Danse ta vie', Sylvie sang French covers of 'Sweet dreams' by the Eurythmics and 'What a feeling' by Irene Cara. In 1984, she recorded a new duet, 'Love again', with John Denver. The 2nd of June, in Los Angeles, Sylvie and Tony Scotti were married. Tony bought his new wife a luxurious home in Beverly Hills. Meanwhile, she recorded her third American album 'Made in USA', but it failed commercial succes, probably because her fans did not want to hear her sing in English. She than recorded the album 'Virage', which would be her last album for RCA.

In the following years, Sylvie decided to calm down. She took care of her husband and the career of her son David. David grew up between Normandy and LA, hidden from paparazzi. Today, he is an accomplished musician who plays piano as well as drums. He recorded an album in English ('True cool') which was a great success.

In 1989 Sylvie picked up her singing career again. She released the album 'Confidances' for Phonogram. On this album she collaborated among others with Michael Cretu (songwriter and producer of famous German singer Sandra). Two videos were shot: 'C'est fatal' and 'Il pleut sur London'. The album would prove to be both a commercial and artistic succesful come back. A few months later, a new version of one of Sylvie’s old hits - "Quand tu es là" - reunited old fans with a new generation. Sylvie was back in the charts again! She also sang on a double CD called “Urgences” to raise money to fight AIDS. Sylvie had matured and wanted to help others. The wind of change blowing behind the iron curtain also caught her attention…

In October ‘90, thanks to Maritie & Gilbert Carpentier, Sylvie and her husband Tony, Eddie, her son David and his young wife, top-model Estelle Lefébure, went to Bulgaria. Sylvie’s mother was too old to go with them. In the evening, she was on stage. During the concert, she sang tributes to John Lennon ('Imagine' and 'Il pleut sur London') and the song by Trenet that her grandfather used to sing to her. The audience was particularly moved when she sang 'La Maritza' and the forbidden revolutionary hymn 'Mila rodino'.

Sylvie was back in the record stores but still not on stage. It would last until January 1991. She chose The palais des sports where she had enjoyed herself so much ten years earlier. The concert was called 'Je vous salue Paris' and two people wanted Sylvie to sing her old tunes: her husband and Etienne Daho. Afterwards, Sylvie sang in Italy and Japan and in 1992 she released a new album, 'Vent d'ouest'.

In June ‘93, Johnny Hallyday turned 50 years old and celebrated during concerts in the huge stadium 'Parc des Princes' with many friends, his son David and ex-wife Sylvie. During the concert, she sang the duet with Johnny 'Tes tendres années' and the song became a hit single. In August ‘93, Sylvie began working on 'l’Ange noir' ('Black angel'), a movie by Jean-Claude Brisseau. They had met at the Cannes Festival. It was an ambitious movie in which Sylvie had a chance to display her acting ability for the first time. She played Stéphane Feuvrier, a dark criminal. The movie got conflicting reviews from the different magazines, but nobody questioned Sylvie's performance or talent.

Then, Sylvie recorded for unplugged sessions some of her old hits. By the end of ‘94, she was everywhere. 'Black angel' was out and several concerts were scheduled. Her album was a success. Sylvie was back, again. In May ‘95, Estelle gave birth to a daughter, Ilona, thus Sylvie becoming grandmother.

In January 1996, Sylvie was back on stage. She chose the legendary Casino de Paris. The show was a success : all the seats were sold out. She then recorded a new album with some of the best songwriters of the decade: Jean-Louis Murat, Luc Plamondon, Yves Simon, Marc Morgan and Richard Cocciante. The album 'Toutes les femmes ont un secret' was a success (100,000 sales) according to the critics who thought it was her best album in ten years. Following the album release, she performed at the Olympia stage again in October 1996.

In 1997 David and Estelle got another daughter, Emma. Sylvie herself adopted a baby girl herself: Darina, a young girl born in Bulgaria. For her daughter, Sylvie released two albums for children, proving that childhood was her universe.

After a tour in Japan in 99, Sylvie made another concert at the Olympia. She wanted to celebrate the year 2000 by singing the most popular songs of the beginning of the 20th Century: Mistinguet and Joséphine Baker but also Charles Trenet, Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour, Fréhel and Maurice Chevalier. The tour was released on cd and dvd and is a great example of the outstanding stage personality that Sylvie has become.

In 2001 Sylvie made a tv movie, 'Mausolée pour une garce', but her beloved brother, friend and manager Eddie died during the shooting. After a two years long break, she eventually published her memories: 'Entre l'ombre et la lumière' ('Between shadow and light'). In 2004 Sylvie released a new album produced by Paul Manners (Kelly Joyce, Tina Arena). The record contained a great collection of very modern songs and even one written by her son David. To promote the album, she returend to the stage of the Palais des Congrès in Paris in september 2004. In 2007 she released the album 'Nouvelle vague', on which she re-interpretates some old classics. After her great 2004 album, this record is somewhat of a disappointment.

After more than four decades, Sylvie Vartan is still going strong. She brought rock 'n roll to France, she received many awards, prices and titles ('Ordre des Arts et Lettres' in ‘85, 'Ordre du mérite' in ‘87, 'Légion d'honneur' in ‘98).

This text is largely based on the information published on www.sylvie-vartan.com.

On the web:

- Great website dedicated to Sylvie: http://www.sylvie-vartan.com
- Website dedicated to Sylvie's shows: http://www.sylvievartanshow.com

If you like this, you probably like... / european counterparts:

Anna Vissi (Greece)

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Ajda Pekkan (Turkey)

What do we think:

PR: Sylvie Vartan is definitely a French icon. She recorded some great songs and has a nice singing voice. But it is not so much her singing or songs that impress, but her talent to manage the whole package so succesfully. The dancing, the singing, the shows, the tv appearences, the cloths, the image! She actually is a Madonna-avant-la-lettre. Want proof? Try one of her live albums or, even better, one of her live dvd's.

DB: You have to keep in mind that Sylvie is first a showgirl. The pre-Madonna association is very correct. She can dance, has reseanable vocal talents, a nose for the latest trends and is probably s shrewd business woman. I wasn't really fond of Sylvie's music untill i saw one of her live shows on DVD. The woman knows how to put on a show (sometimes a bit to Vegas-style maybe). A Sylvie live-album is always a good bet. Her studio albums go from very good to utter crap. Be careful.

Recommended albums:

♪♪ - Sylvie - 1962

♪♪♪ - Il y a deux filles en moi - 1966

♪♪♪ - 2 mn 35 du bonheur - 1967

♪♪♪ - Comme un garçon - 1967

♪♪♪ - La Maritza - 1968

♪♪♪♪ - Olympia - 1972

♪♪♪ - Qu'est-ce qui fait pleurer les blondes? - 1976

♪ - Dancing Star (show tv) - 1977

♪♪ - Déresonnable - 1979

♪♪ - Ça va mal - 1981

♪♪♪ - Danse ta vie - 1983

♪ - Des heures de désir - 1984

♪ - Made in USA - 1985

♪♪ - Virages - 1986

♪♪♪♪♪ - Sylvie Vartan / Confidances - 1989

♪♪ - Vent d'ouest - 1992

♪♪♪♪♪ - Toutes les femmes ont un secret - 1996

♪♪♪ - Sensible - 1998

♪♪♪♪ - Tour de siècle (live) - 1999

♪♪♪ - Sylvie - 2004

♪ - Nouvelle vague - 2007

♪♪♪♪ - Toutes peines confondues - 2009

♪♪♪ - Live - 2010

♪♪♪♪ - Soleil bleu - 2010

Further listening:

Twiste et chante - 1962; A Nashville - 1964; A gift wrapped from Paris - 1965; Aime-moi - 1970; Sylvie à l'Olympia - 1970; Sympathie - 1971; J'ai un probleme - 1973; Je chante pour Swanee (show tv) - 1973; Shang shang a lang - 1974; Palais des Congrès (live) - 1975; Show Sylvie Vartan (show tv) - 1975; Ta sorcière bien aimée - 1976; Georges - 1977; Palais des Congrès (live) - 1977; Fantaisie - 1977; I don't want the night to end - 1979; Bienvenue solitude - 1980; Palais des Sports (live) - 1980; De chauses et d'autres - 1982; Live in Las Vegas (live) - 1982; Palais des Congrès (live) - 1983; Enregistrement public à Sofia (live) - 1990; Sessions acoustiques - 1994; Au Casino de Paris (live) - 1995; A l'Olympia (live) - 1997; Irrésistiblement - 1999; Palais des congrès (live) - 2004

♪♪♪♪♪= outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided