Jacques Brel – Flemish singer
Jacques Brel (April 8, 1929, Scharbeck, Belgium – October 9, 1978, France) was a Belgian French-speaking poet, bard, actor and director. Jacques was more of a fine artist than songwriter. His compositions are full of passion, action and location.
At school he did not study brilliantly, but from an early age took part in amateur theater performances. His father forced Jacques to join the family business.
In 1951, Brel married Teresa Michilsen, in the same year they had a daughter.
In his early twenties he relocated to Paris.
In July 1954 he gave a stunning performance at the city’s Olympia Theatre. Brel’s unique take on the chanson had been observed by the Philips label, who signed him and issued his eponymous debut album that year. Brel performed in different cities of Belgium and France, in Amsterdam, Lausanne, North Africa.
France became his adopted country, but Brel never forgot his roots and declared himself a Flemish singer in interview. His first commercial breakthrough occurred in France, with the single release of his Quand on n’a que lamour’ (1956, later adapted as If We Only Have Love). His songs were rewritten for an English-speaking audience by American folk poet Rod McKuen.
In October 1965, Brel toured the Soviet Union: his tour included Moscow, Leningrad, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Baku.
At the peak of success in 1966, Brel decided to leave the singing and the stage. On May 16, 1967, his last concert took place in Roubaix.
Brel performed as an actor in the French films including Les Risques du métier and a comic turn in L’Emmerdeur, while also writing and directing the translated US stage musical Man of La Mancha (1968).
A keen yachtsman, Jacques Brel was in the Canary Islands when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 1974. A year later he took himself to the Marquises Islands in French Polynesia. He remained there and only returned to France to release the successful 1977 album Brel.
Brel died, and was buried next to Paul Gauguin, in Altuona, on the Polynesian island of Hiva-Oa.