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Nicoletta: "That Gilbert Bécaud has fallen into oblivion is a scandal!"

At 79, Nicoletta is more alert than ever.

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Nicoletta: "That Gilbert Bécaud has fallen into oblivion is a scandal!"

At 79, Nicoletta is more alert than ever. Just before resuming her gospel tour (*), our favorite “Soul Sister” will be on stage at the Olympia to pay tribute to Gilbert Bécaud (**). She will sing La Solitude in a jazzy version. For Le Figaro, the interpreter of Mamy Blue, La Musique and Il est mort le soleil recounts in his hoarse voice his memories with Gilbert Bécaud. But also those with Jacques Brel for whom she participates in A day with Brel broadcast soon on France 3.

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LE FIGARO - When did you meet Gilbert Bécaud?

Nicoletta: As a teenager at home in Haute-Savoie, I first listened to it on the radio. When I was 15-16, I sang his song Les Marchés de Provence. Even today, I love his romantic melodies and his songs full of joie de vivre like I'm coming back to get you, Nathalie, It's in September... The first time I met him was at my all beginnings in Paris. From memory, it was thanks to Pierre Delanoë who wrote the lyrics to my song Il est mort le soleil. From there, Gilbert helped me enormously and did the same for Julien Clerc who was on the poster for the musical Hair.

How did it help you?

He allowed me to cover his song La solitude. When he heard it in my slightly jazzy version, he exclaimed, "Bitch, your tempo is way better than mine!" (raucous laughter, editor’s note).” I had this idea in my bathtub. Gilbert had an extraordinary musical sense. Provided you keep your melody and harmonies, you can change the tempo. His songs are timeless. He also took me several weeks with him on tour in France. I sang with him in Belgium and Germany, on stage as well as on major television shows with large orchestras. When he did the program Le Grand Échiquier presented by Jacques Chancel on October 24, 1998 in which he sang several of his songs, he invited me and accompanied me himself on the piano.

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You say he was frank and generous?

Oh my, yes. On stage and in private. An artist like him no longer exists today. At the end of the tours, he invited the musicians to dine together in gourmet restaurants. He was asking me for my favorite wine. I would say "Château Latour" and he would exclaim, "Let's go! A Château Latour for Madame!” (laughs, editor’s note).

With your friend Johnny Hallyday, you loved watching him from behind the scenes?

Yes because he was a fabulous showman. It is thanks to him that I learned to stand on stage, not to do certain things. It was always very subtle but it made the difference. I was in the audience to applaud him at his last Olympia. Gilbert was already ill and was very brave. It was wonderful.

Gilbert Bécaud is one of the greatest geniuses of French song, he remains an international star with ten standards like What now my love but in France, he has been completely forgotten?

It is a scandal. He was killed by preventing the work of memory from being done after his death from cancer on December 18, 2001. If I come to the Olympia, it is to help “the little one”, Emily Becaud, his daughter eldest who is now the only one to possess the moral rights of her father. Emily has many plans to rediscover her father's work and she can count on me.

Your return is busy. We will also see you on France Télévisions in a tribute to Jacques Brel?

He too, I knew him when I started. I'm going to sing When we only have love. We were in the same record company at Eddie Barclay. Brel came to see me on stage because he wanted to give me a role in Don Quixote by Cervantes. I have never been so scared in my life. Knowing this in the public scared the hell out of me. As I walked off stage, I burst into tears. He handed me a tissue and reassured me by telling me that I had sung really well. Ultimately, I didn't continue in Don Quixote because Eddie Barclay preferred that I learn my trade. Brel had said that I didn't have enough good songs. My producer said, "Since these aren't good enough, go ask him for one!" Jacques Brel was very elegant: "Let her take what she wants!" I chose When we only have love and he gave me a very nice gift: he posed with me for the record cover. He is on horseback in period costume with a big hat and I am behind, holding his waist. Jacques Brel was like a big brother to me.

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And you’re going back on tour in October?

I am an independent singer. I go on stage when I want to and I don't accept all the offers. With my husband who has been my manager for twenty years, I produce myself. Last year, I did the Francofolies in La Rochelle but I no longer sing in the summer because of the heat and there are too many people on the roads. To limit the kilometers, I sing region by region every three to four years. This fall, I will be on the road with my choristers and my pianist in the west of France: Royan, Châteauroux...I sing in towns of 20 to 30,000 inhabitants, often in churches and in halls of 600 to 1200 seats. It’s always full and I’m happy like that.

(*) And now, tribute show to Gilbert Bécaud, Olympia. September 17 at 5:00 p.m.

(**) Cathedral tours

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