France Gall, ‘timeless icon of French song’

French pop singer France Gall (pictured), who died on Sunday in a Paris hospital after battling cancer for two years, was a rage of the swinging sixties and seventies.

She started singing at 16 with her first single, ‘Don’t Be So Stupid’ (Ne Sois Pas Si Bête), selling some 200,000 copies.  She won Eurovision song contest representing Luxembourg with ‘Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son’ (Wax Doll, Rag Doll), in 1965 beating the UK’s Kathy Kirby. She then went on rendering songs for five decades including the 1968 song ‘Comme d’Habitude’  that inspired Frank Sinatra’s classic ‘My Way’ and the 1966 song ‘Les Sucettes’ (The Lollipops) which, as an 18-year-old, she sang without realising the sexual implications.

Known for her childish smile, sweet voice, and blond bob, Gall became a rage for several generations and a “timeless icon of French song”, as Culture Minister Françoise Nyssen succinctly put it.  During the 1960s and 70s, she teamed with some of the best musicians of the time including Serge Gainsbourg, Claude Francois and Michel Berger whom she married.

Although Gall became a name overnight after the winning the Gainsbourg song ‘Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son’, her fame lost some sheen when she sang the second Gainsbourg number on lollipops with childish innocence. The promotional images of her dressed in bikini enjoying a lollipop never struck her as sexually suggestive then. Later, when she realised the implications, she cut off her professional ties with Gainsbourg.

She teamed with Berger in 1974 and the two came out with hits like ‘Resiste’ (1981) and ‘Ella, Elle l’a’ (1987), a tribute to American jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald.

But her personal life turned into a tragedy when her husband Berger died of heart attack in 1992 and daughter Pauline died five years later. The double blow was too much for Gall who stopped singing and sought solace in humanitarian work.

Gall, originally named Isabelle, was born in October 1947 into a musical family. Her father was singer and songwriter Robert Gall.

As Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron put it so well, Gall “leaves behind songs known by every French person and the example of a life that was oriented towards others, those that she loved and those that she helped.”