Léo Marjane, French Chanteuse During Paris Occupation

Léo Marjane at 100 years–Watch on YouTube (in French)

The artistry of Thèrése Maria Léonie Gendeblen, who performed under the stage name Léo Marjane, is overshadowed by her career choices during the Nazi occupation of Paris. During this period, Marjane, a popular chanteuse, continued to perform in clubs frequented by collaborationists and Nazis and sang on the tainted Radio Paris, which came under German control and was seen as a mouthpiece of the Axis. (Radio Paris was shuttered after the liberation of Paris.)

Marjane (August 26, 1912-December 18, 2016) was not the only French artist to find herself in a no-win situation. Maurice Chevalier worked to salvage his reputation by claiming to leverage his popularity to secure the release of 10 French POWs. (A video of Chevalier’s PR defense can be seen on holocaustmusic.ort.org.) For her part, Marjane claimed to have been naive.

After the war, Marjane’s popularity waned, and she sought audiences elsewhere, in  the U.S., Canada and South America. She gave up performing entirely by 1960. In recent years, she has had a bit of a comeback, appearing on CD anthologies of music from the 1930s and 40s.

Léo Marjane lived to be 104.

“Seule ce soir” on Spotify

Tammy Grimes, Tony-Winning Broadway Star

“Dolce Far Niente” from The Unsinkable Molly Brown–Watch on YouTube

When Tammy Grimes was chosen as the lead for the original production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, she was so unknown that the producer’s name appeared above hers on the marquee. She won a Tony for her performance, but only as Best Supporting Actress. (The Tonys rules used marquee position to determine what category actors were eligible to win.)

Grimes (January 30, 1934-October 30, 2016)  was a particular favorite for Noël Coward roles. The composer himself chose her to appear in his Look After Lulu in 1958 after seeing her perform cabaret. She went on to appear in High Spirits, an adaptation of his play Blithe Spirit, and a 1969 revival of Private Lives, for which she won the Tony for Best Actress.

Grimes prepared herself for the musical stage while at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. (Stephens has recently been ranked #6 in the nation for its theatre program by The Princeton Review.)

In addition to Broadway, Grimes appeared in movies, provided the voices for animated characters and even had a short-lived ABC sitcom. As recently as 2010, you could catch her singing cabaret at The Metropolitan Room in Manhattan.

“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” on Spotify

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Patachou, Parisian Chanteuse

Patachou singing “Brave Margot” in 1954

When I was in college, I spent a semester in Paris. I soon discovered all the romantic images I brought with me–the Eiffel Tower, corner cafes, Parisians bustling about with baguettes tucked under their arms–were, well, pretty accurate. About the only thing that was missing was an accordion playing in the background, and even that, come to think of it, was sometimes present courtesy of street musicians in the Metro.

For many years a major contributor to the Parisian soundtrack was Patachou (June 10, 1918-April 30, 2015). Patachou was the stage name of Henriette Eugénie Jeanne Ragon. “Patachou” comes from “pâte à choux,” or “cream puff dough.” A 1958 article in The New York Times  noted “This is roughly the equivalent of Doris Day taking on the pseudonym of ‘Redi-Mix Batter.'”

A kind of anti-Edith Piaf, Patachou captured the joie de vivre of Parisian life. No painful romances for her. Her attitude reflected the reason she got into the music business in the first place: to boost business at the cafe she and her husband owned in Montmarte. Happy songs, delivered by a feisty young woman helped to draw–and hold–a crowd.

Watch Patachou perform “La chansonette”

You don’t have to speak the language to sense the affection the French felt for Patachou. Simply watch this short piece from Tele Matin.

Patachou profile and interview on Télélematin

Julie Wilson, Queen of the Cabaret Singers

Julie Wilson (October 21, 1924-April 5, 2015) was a Nebraska beauty queen who traded her tiara to pursue a career in music. She started in the chorus of “Earl Carroll’s Vanities” in Omaha in the early 1940s and by 1946 had worked her way into her first Broadway show,  Three to Make Ready. 

She won a singing contest on  a radio show hosted by Mickey Rooney. That earned her a spot at the Mocambo Club in LA, where Cole Porter saw her and recruited her for the London production of Kiss Me Kate.

The culmination of her Broadway career came when she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her 1989 performance in Legs Diamond.

She spent many years in New York in the nightclub circuit, booking gigs in all prestigious Manhattan rooms, including La Maisonette at the St. Regis, the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, the Metropolitan Room, Michael’s Pub and Cafe Carlyle.

Reviewing her tribute to Rodgers and Hart at Cafe Carlyle in 1984, New York Times music critic Stephen Holden praised her talent for “unearthing the dramatic essence of songs we think we know better than we really do.” She was famous for her interpretations of Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and Stephen Sondheim.

In a talking style, nearly devoid of melody, she would deliver the entire song, not just the familiar verses, to unlock its true meaning and mood. Dark undertones would emerge in songs previously thought to be sentimental.

Of her voice, Holden wrote: “Though her voice is not pretty, it is capable of a commanding beauty while remaining impressively precise in pitch, phrasing and dynamic shadings.”

A scene from the movie “This Could Be the Night” (1957, director Robert Wise) with Ms. Wilson as nightclub singer Ivy Corlane.