Véronique Sanson (full name, Véronique Marie Line Sanson, born 24 April 1949 in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, France) is a three-time Victoires de la Musique Award-winning French singer-songwriter, musician, and producer with an avid following in her native country.
She brings a very personal vocal style to the singing of French pop songs: Her voice has a very strong tremolo.
Unlike most previous French artists of the Sixties and early Seventies, who mostly released EPs usually consisting of a collection of singles, B-sides and covers, Sanson was one of the first female artists to release actual albums with a full-length artistic statement and comprising songs flowing together thematically. In 1972, her breakthrough album, Amoureuse, was reviewed by many critics as groundbreaking, and ten years after Barbara, Véronique Sanson became one of the very first French female singer-songwriters to break into stardom.
One of her songs, "Amoureuse", was covered in English in 1973 by singer Kiki Dee, and became a major hit in the United Kingdom, and has been covered since by various other singers, from Polly Brown (1973) to Olivia Newton-John (1974) and a dance-music version by Illusive, featuring Amanda Abbs (1997). In 1974, Patti Dahlstrom recorded a second version with her own lyrics, entitled "Emotion", and this new version was covered by Helen Reddy (1974) and Shirley Bassey (1975). Many other covers of "Amoureuse" have been recorded in French, German, Japanese...
Véronique Sanson plays piano and guitar.
Childhood and family
Both her parents, René and Colette Sanson, were members of the Resistance during the German occupation of France. Before the war, René Sansonwas a French diplomat in The Hague. When the Germans invaded the Netherlands, he sent a coded message to warn the French government that Germany was planning to attack France from across the Belgian border. This very message was decoded by Colette, a communication worker at the French Ministry of War. It was not until a few months later that they met in person, in a resistance cell. Both became prominent within the French Resistance. In 1944, after the bombing of a German train, Colette was arrested and sentenced to death by the occupation force before she managed to escape. After the liberation of Paris, René Sanson was appointed Minister of Labour in Charles de Gaulle's provisional government. The couple married in 1945. As a lawyer and an economist, René Sanson remained involved in politics as Member of Parliament and Mayor of the 13th district of Paris until 1967.
Véronique grew up in a very posh and privileged Parisian home. She attended the Cours Hattemer, a private school. Her parents considered music the finest art there was, and emphasized the musical apprenticeship of their daughters. Her mother introduced her to the guitar, while her father, who was a great fan of jazz, taught her the piano at the age of four. Early on, she displayed great ability and could play complex classical pieces by Mozart, Bach or Gershwin.
At the age of 13, she already composed her own songs, influenced by The Beatles, Ray Charles and by Dionne Warwick's peculiar vibrato. In 1965, she was struck by amnesia after a severe bout of meningitis. This experience became a leitmotiv in Sanson's work, as she often expressed a deep nostalgia towards her "forgotten childhood"
Discovery and early recordings: the late 1960s
In 1967, her career began in a trio, the Roche-Martin, with François Bernheim and her sister Violaine Sanson (Bernheim is currently a songwriter for many notable recording artists including Patricia Kaas, while Violaine Sanson has pursued a career in advertising). Despite their enthusiasm, the three teenagers only managed to sell a few hundreds records. However, this experience allowed her to meet with Michel Berger (who was actually a childhood acquaintance), with whom she began a romantic relationship as well as a prolific artistic career. He introduced her to his record company (Pathé Marconi), and encouraged her to pursue a solo career. Sanson later mentioned that period as her most productive. In an interview, she recalled that she forced herself to write a song per day to keep up with Berger. In 1969, she released her first solo single, comprising "Le Feu Du Ciel" and "Le Printemps est là", which met with very little success despite some radio-play on a few Parisian radio stations.
The Breakthrough: the early 1970s
After the commercial failure of her first single, her contract with Pathé Marconi was severed. She kept on working with Berger, who asked her to write songs for Isabelle de Funès, niece of French actor, Louis de Funès. She wrote "Mon voisin", "Une odeur de neige" and "Jusqu'à la tombée du jour" that would later be featured in her 1992 album Sans Regrets. In 1971, she wrote "La brume de Philadelphie" for Petula Clark. The song was issued as the B-side of Clark's French single "La Chanson de Marie Madeleine".
At that stage of her life, Sanson's voice had reached maturity, and she suddenly discovered her ability to produce the vibrato that would rapidly become her trademark. She and Berger had formed an inseparable team, and were offered a joint recording contract by Bernard de Bosson, the emblematic CEO of WEA, the label to which they would remain faithful for the rest of their careers.
In 1972, Sanson finally released the album Amoureuse, produced by Berger The album received a warm welcome from critics, and with the singles "Besoin de personne", "Amoureuse", and "Bahia", it reached the summit of the charts thanks to intensive radio play (2x Gold in 5 months). Françoise Hardy later declared that the release of Amoureuse marked the end of the Yé-yé era, as she confessed "When I first heard Amoureuse, I had the impression that every female singer, including myself, was left far behind". However, the success of the album had an ironic downside for Véronique, who was terrified of performing in front of an audience and therefore refused to schedule concerts. However, Berger and de Bosson believed she could overcome her debilitating fear, and forced her to perform a daily showcase at the Eiffel Tower's restaurant. Every night she had to perform four songs in front of "a horde of Japanese tourists who couldn't care less about her songs". Nevertheless, she later mentioned it as a necessary experience that helped her conquer her stage fright, and the same year she appeared as the opening act for some of the biggest stars of the time such as Claude Francois, Julien Clerc, and Michel Polnareff.
Amoureuse was closely followed by De l'autre côté de mon rêve, which also became a commercial success thanks to the singles "Comme je l'imagine", and "Chanson sur ma drôle de vie". In the meantime, she had met Stephen Stills at a concert he performed with his new band Manassas in Paris. The pair fell in love, and Véronique Sanson left Berger to follow Stills to New York, just as De l'autre côté de mon rêve was released. (She supposedly went out to buy cigarettes, but never came back). In Canada the next year (1973), Sanson went on tour as a main act for the first time.
The American Period: 1973–1981
Véronique Sanson and Stills married in 1973, in Guildford, England, with notable guests such as Ringo Starr and Roger Daltrey. She moved permanently to the United States, but returned to France regularly to give concerts and perform on French television. In 1974, she gave birth to her only child, Chris Stills, in Boulder, Colorado. Sanson seemed happy in the United States, where she really blossomed as a complete artist. Being close to Stills taught her a lot about producing and recording music. In interviews, she has often mentioned her preference for the American way of making music, in comparison to what she had experienced in France. In that sense, her marriage also marked a new direction to her career, which has led the French media to constantly associate her music with Anglo-Saxon influences (in her career she has recorded most of her albums in the US, and mostly with American musicians). In the TV documentary La douceur du danger, Sanson remembers her first year of marriage as artistically frustrating. While she had been constantly encoraged to work by Berger, she did not receive that kind of support from Stills, who did not take a lot of interest in what she was doing. However, she finally took the leap, and decided to work on a new album.
Far from home, and without musicians, she enrolled Manassas and decided to produce the album herself, using what she had learned with Berger and Stills. In total contrast with her Beatles-inspired previous albums, the record emerged as a remarkable mixture of pop and 1970's rock'n'roll. Still considered by the critics as her best album to date, Le Maudit was released in 1974, and reflects a large spectrum of musical influences such as bossa nova in "Alia Souza", or pure rock'n'roll in "On m'attend là bas". After several tours in Quebec in 1973, she went touring in France, with two concerts at the Olympia in October 1974, with Stills on bass guitar, then a long tour in 1975, with two weeks at the Olympia .
In 1976, she began a long-lasting professional collaboration with producer Bernard Saint-Paul (making 12 albums) who would become a close friend. The album Vancouver, recorded in London with British musicians, surpassed her previous achievements. The record became her first platinum album and got a tremendous amount of radio play, especially the single "Vancouver", one of her biggest hits.
By 1976, Sanson had become an established star. Her music, very much inspired by the best American producers, constituted a rarity in the French musical landscape. She gave two weeks of concerts at the Olympia, where her first live album was recorded.
"Bernard's Song" the opening song of her sixth album released in 1977, Hollywood, is often presented as a tribute to Saint-Paul (though she has since denied it). Recorded in Stevie Wonder's studios in Los Angeles, Hollywood found Sanson combining a disco-inspired sound to pop-driven melodies. Also, this album is often referred to as the most emblematic piece of Sanson's American period. The same year she went on tour across France with Michel Jonasz as her opening act. Although she lived in the United States most of the time, she managed to remain present in the French musical landscape, travelling back and forth between her home in Colorado and her audience in France.
In 1978, she became the first female artist to perform at le Palais des sports in Paris (the biggest arena in Paris at that time).
In 1979, she released 7ième, best known for the single "Ma révérence", a tragic ballad with memorable lyrics, that has become one of her most popular songs. Overall, the album is quite melancholic, which contrasts with the lightness of Hollywood two years earlier. In fact, Sanson was going through a hard time in her life. She had decided to leave Stills (conjugal violence) and was engaged in a tough legal battle in American courts for the custody of her son. This album marked the beginning of a darker period for the singer, after a decade that easily qualified as the zenith of her career. Indeed, she had managed to craft six critically and commercially acclaimed albums in the course of eight years.
Period of Transition: The 1980s
The transition toward the 1980s was difficult and challenging. Still tied to America by her son (of whom she did not gain full custody until 1983), she continued to split her time between the USA and France. After the general disappointment of 7ième, fans and critics were enthusiastic when her new album came out in 1981 (Laisse-la vivre). Though the record contained no memorable hit singles, it emerged as a solid ensemble of well-crafted songs. The album went double gold and she spent the following year on the road, managing to draw large audiences during a tour that ended with three weeks in a row at the Palais des sports of Paris.
In 1983, she permanently settled in France with her son, Christopher, and her boyfriend, actor Etienne Chicot. After a long break, she released an eponymous album in 1985, recorded entirely in France. This untitled album was nicknamed The white album by the press, while Sanson often refers to it as The lil' trees or Les p'tits arbres (the cover features trees painted by Véro over a white background). This synth-driven album included C'est long c'est court which became a hit on French radio during the summer of 1985, as well as the ballad "Le temps est assassin". The tremendous success of the 1985–86 tour demonstrated that Véronique Sanson had managed to rally her faithful and patient following, and in November 1985 she began a month-long residence at the Olympia, performing daily shows.
In 1988, she released the album Moi le venin, which included the highly controversial single "Allah" (produced by Berger). A couple of months after the release of the video directed by Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds, Kalifornia, Swordfish...), the song was censored in the media, and Sanson was forced to drop it from her tour's set-list after receiving threats of violence from radical Muslims. As a result of several death threats, she was put under police protection. The controversy arose because of the Muslim tradition forbidding reference to Allah in a song, and occurred just a few weeks after a fatwā was issued against Salman Rushdie. In response to the uproar, Sanson apologized and pleaded that the song was really meant to be a message of peace and tolerance. French show-business massively stood up for her, and more than a hundred artists signed a pamphlet against "the diktat of all forms of radicalism"
In November 1989, Sanson took part in the first charity tour entitled Les Enfoirés for Les Restos du coeur, alongside French rock stars Johnny Hallyday, Eddy Mitchell and Jean-Jacques Goldman. Since then, every year an Enfoirés concert has been held on national television with major stars performing covers to encourage people to donate to the Restos du Cœur, a humanitarian institution providing food to the poor across France.
In 1989, a dream came true for her: to play with a symphonic orchestra. After rehearsals in Czechoslovakia with the Czech symphonic orchestra "Fisyo", a series of six concerts took place in December 1989 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. A resulting live album was released the subsequent year. In 1990, she also toured with the symphonic orchestra for a dozen concerts across France.
In 1991, Véronique Sanson received the Grand Prix of "la SACEM" (the French Singer Songwriter guild) to celebrate her entire recording career. The same year, she released a duet with her friend Catherine Lara, entitled "Entre elle et moi".
For the first time since 1980, Sanson chose the United States to record her ninth studio album with American musicians. Sans regrets, issued in 1992, was a tremendous success propelled by the famous single "Rien que de l'eau". This song was the result of an unprecedented collaboration with another songwriter, Bernard Swell, a long-time friend. The album went platinum and its first single still remains one of her biggest hits, with over 500,000 copies sold in six months.
In 1993, she won a Victoires de la musique for best female singer of the year. In March, she performed at the Zenith Paris. During these shows, she paid tribute to Berger who had died in 1992, by performing "Seras-tu là", one of his songs. The live album recorded at the Zenith went platinum.
Between 1992 and 1995, thanks to the enormous success of her most recent album, Sanson went on tour in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. During the summer of 1994, at the Francofolies Festival of La Rochelle, several artists gathered to pay a musical tribute to her career. For more than two hours, Michel Fugain, Alain Chamfort, Yves Duteil, William Sheller, Marc Lavoine, les Innocents, PaulPersonne, Maxime le Forestier and I Muvrini, performed some of her biggest hits in duet with Sanson. This special tribute gave birth to a live album released the following year: Comme ils l'imaginent went 2x Platinum, and became one of the best-selling albums of 1995 in France.
In 1995, she married stand-up comedian Pierre Palmade in Triel-sur-Seine. In the same year, she recorded a duet with her son, Chris Stills, titled "Run". The song was released on a benefit album for children living with AIDS (Sol En Si). In 1996, she won her second Victoires de la musique for Best Female Artist of The Year.
Sanson started the production of a new album in 1997. A video for the first single, "Un être idéal", was released at the end of the year, before the album itself was finished. The album was recorded in the United States, and Bernard Swell wrote and produced four of the album's songs. A sold out tour followed the release of Indestructible, which remains a controversial albums among fans. Some found it overproduced, while others loved its modernity. Although it was not a commercial failure, Indestructible (2x gold) failed to score higher than Sans regrets (2x platinum).
During the summer of 1999, Sanson appeared at the Festival Les Vieilles Charrues. In fact, the singer had in mind to record an album covering some of Berger's songs, and her performance at Les Vieilles Charrues allowed her to test the audience regarding her ambitious project.
Long Distance: the 2000s
Sanson's cover album of Michel Berger songs — a few well-known, but mostly from his early years — was released in 2000 (D'un papillon à une étoile). Although it became a huge success and went platinum in just a few weeks, the reaction of the audience was more ambivalent, especially among Berger fans, who regarded the album as sacrilegious. It was followed by an extensive tour, produced by Paul Buckmaster (Elton John's arranger), and eventually by a live album (Avec vous). Sanson surrounded herself with her usual musicians, mostly Americans, as well as a classical ensemble from Prague. Her stage outfits for this tour were entirely created by Yves Saint Laurent.
In June 2000, she was invited to perform for President Jacques Chirac at the Elysée Palace for the Fête de la Musique.
In 2002, after a prolonged absence due to health problems, Sanson had to cancel a solo tour on which she would have accompanied herself only on piano. However, in September 2004, a few months after the press had announced her divorce from Pierre Palmade, she released a come-back album titled Longue Distance, produced by long-time friends Bernard Swell and Bernard Saint-Paul. Longue Distance peaked at number 1 on the French charts. Her 2005 tour across France ended with nine concerts at the Olympia, during which she recorded her eighth live album.
In 2005, she released her autobiography, La Douceur du Danger (written with Didier Varrod), in which she discussed the most striking events of her life, particularly her alcoholism, and her love life.
The "best-of", entitled Petits moments choisis, was released in November 2007, just as the singer started an unusually long tour which lasted until the summer of 2009. In December 2008, the limited edition 22CD/4DVD collection titled Et voilà !, including all her albums and videos as well as many previously unreleased tracks, sold out in less than a month.
In October 2008, she joined ex-husband Stills and her son, Chris Stills, on the stage of the Olympia, to perform a family version of Stills's "Love the one you're with".
In November 2008, rapper Jay-Z released a song called "History", to honor the election of US President Barack Obama. The song is based on samples and melodies from Véronique Sanson's 1972 recording of "Une nuit sur son épaule" (the original solo version, not the 1995 duet with Marc Lavoine). Jay-Z's song features Sanson on background vocals. In December 2008, she declared on Canal Plus's "Le Grand Journal" that she appreciated it, but would have preferred to be asked beforehand.
French-Canadian pop star Ima released a salsa-inspired reworking of "Chanson sur ma drôle de vie", followed in February 2009 by an associated video. Additionally, singer Lara Fabian released a cover version of "Amoureuse" in June on her studio album Toutes les femmes en moi.
In March 2010, the two lead actresses of the film Tout ce qui brille released a cover of "Chanson sur ma drôle de vie" on the movie soundtrack. The song became a number one hit in France, while the original recording by Sanson peaked at number 2 on the French iTunes.
The album, titled Plusieurs lunes (Many Moons) was released on 25 October 2010, and debuted at number 3 on the French charts. Plusieurs Lunes caught the attention of the press who widely celebrated and highlighted the return of the real Sanson after a couple of fairly disappointing albums (namely Indestructible and Longue Distance). A song from this new piece, "La nuit se fait attendre", was made available on her official website in June 2010, while the second single, "Qu'on me pardonne" (written by her sister, Violaine) was released in early October. After a week-long residence at the Paris Olympia in March 2011, Sanson toured across France, Belgium, Switzerland, Tunisia, Israel until the end of 2012, including more shows in Paris, in Grand Rex and Salle Pleyel.
In commemoration of the forty years anniversary of the release of Amoureuse (released on 20 March 1972), singer songwriter Jeanne Cherhal played a tribute concert on 21 March 2012 at the studio 104 in Paris at which all 12 tracks of the album were covered by the singer. The concert was broadcast on the radio France Inter on 6 April 2012.
On 14 May 2012, Warner Music released a box set containing a remastered CD of Amoureuse (including 10 demo songs, and a duet with Fanny Ardant), a vinyl version, a live CD recorded in Brussels in 2011, and a photo book.
In January 2015, she started a new tour named "Les Années Américaines" (The American Years) at the Olympia, mainly performing songs of her 70's period. A book, including unreleased personal documents and pictures, as well as a 2CD Best of, both with same title "Les Années Américaines", are released. Then in March a Deluxe issue of the Best of with a 3rd record includes a previously unreleased recording of her show at the Olympia in 1975. The tour initially planned until April, continues in summer festivals, and finally from October to January 2016, with new Paris shows at Le Palais des Sports and finally the Olympia, where the last of the 76 shows was recorded.
Sanson was romantically involved with French singer-songwriter Michel Berger from 1967 to 1972. Their love story has become a part of French music history, especially through songs they wrote to each other long after they broke up. From 1973 to 1979 she was married to American rock musician Stephen Stills. Their son, Chris Stills, is also a musician. She was later married to French comic Pierre Palmade from 1995 to 2001.
- Amoureuse (1972)
- De l'autre côté de mon rêve (1972)
- Le maudit (1974)
- Vancouver (1976)
- Hollywood (1977)
- 7ème (1979)
- Laisse-la vivre (1981)
- Véronique Sanson (1985)
- Moi le venin (1988)
- Sans regrets (1992)
- Indestructible (1998)
- D'un papillon à une étoile (1999)
- Longue distance (2004)
- Plusieurs Lunes (2010)
- Dignes, dingues, donc... (2016)
- Live at the Olympia 1976
- Live au Palais des Sports 1981
- L'Olympia 1985
- A l'Olympia 89
- Symphonique Sanson (1989)
- Zenith 93
- Comme ils l'imaginent (1995)
- Véronique Sanson chante Michel Berger, Avec vous (2000)
- Olympia 2005
- Le Cirque Royal de Véronique Sanson (2012)
- Olympia 1975 (2015)
- 1975 : Silver Prize, Tokyo Music Festival
- 1978 : Best Female Artist of the Year, Midem
- 1984 : Named Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture
- 1991 : Grand Prix de la SACEM
- 1992 : Medal of the French National Order of Merit
- 1993 : Victoires de la musique Best Female Artist of the Year
- 1996 : Victoires de la musique Best Female Artist of the Year
- 2005 : Named Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture
- 2013 : Victoires de la musique Honorary Award
- 2015 : Prix spécial de la SACEM
- 2015 : "Grand Prix de la chanson française" from the Académie Française for her entire song catalog