Nicoletta, a French 'soul sister' Special

Posted Jun 6, 2010 by Johnny Summerton
Recognised by the late, great Ray Charles as being a "soul sister" when he first met her, the French performer Nicoletta was back on stage last week celebrating 40 years in show business.
Nicoletta in concert  Bordeaux  France. June 2010
Nicoletta in concert, Bordeaux, France. June 2010
Perhaps Nicoletta is not a name with which many of you will be familiar even if you're fans of French music.
But hers is a repertoire that includes some of the (now) standards of "la chanson française" such as "Il est mort le soleil" (then and now) "Les volets clos" and "Flo Maravilla".
The 66-year-old is more than just a blast from the past or an almost forgotten memory of a bygone era as her show at the Casino Théâtre Barrière in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux illustrated on Friday.
Certainly she may not be riding high in the charts nor scheduling umpteen concert dates at home and abroad, but there again, she doesn't really need to either.
She has been there and done that so to speak, and built up a loyal fan base that has followed her across the decades.
As Nicoletta recounts the highs and lows of her career throughout the night's performance, she seems to have the 700-strong audience hanging on her every word, even to the extent of their joining in at times to remind her of names she has worked with, nodding in agreement and definitely wallowing in a degree of nostalgia.
She talks about her beginnings (as Nicole Grisoni) in the clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris in the 1960s, and of her first encounter with the US singer-songwriter Mort Shuman.
The audience is reminded of her concert in China where she sang the since much-copied "Mamy Blue" in front of thousands.
There's a mention of music she brought back with her from Brazil and how, at one point, she lost several of her best musicians to another stalwart of the French music scene.
These aren't just mere stories though. They're part of a musical career, all wrapped around those hits of course which serve as more than a trip down memory lane.
With 40 years in the business and having worked with so many of the giants of French music, there's also a lot that she cannot pack in to one evening.
Nicoletta has always had a powerful and resonant voice that lends itself to an eclectic blend of jazz, soul, French standards and most importantly perhaps Gospel, which she has helped popularise in France.
Four decades later and she can still belt out all those tunes.
Her energetic performance towards the end of the show of "Mamy Blue", "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Oh Happy Day" with the backing of a local gospel choir are more than testament to that.
And had even those who might otherwise have been reticent about getting to their feet and joining in, do just that.
What Nicoletta represents, apart from being perhaps that overused term a "living legend", is a reminder to the new generation of "crooners" springing up on both sides of the Atlantic, that they still have a long, long way to go before they can match her talent and staying power.
Just as importantly, as Nicoletta touches on during the evening, those winners of television reality shows (one of her biggest hits "La Musique" was used as the theme music for the first season of just such a programme, Star Academy, in France) have an even further road to travel.
You get the sense that everybody in the audience is nodding in wise agreement.