Charles Trénet

Charles Trenet was among the last of his kind of singer, a holdover from the era of pre-World War II France and the prime of Maurice Chevalier, as well as singer/composers such as Georges Brassens and Léo Ferré. Originally an art student, Trenet turned to singing in his early twenties, initially in partnership with pianist Johnny Hess in a duo billed as "Charles and Johnny." In his earliest stage persona, Trenet was also known as a musical impressionist, with a special penchant for doing exaggerated impersonations of Chevalier. Ironically, amid the manic antics of the act, he actually suffered from deep stage fright, which he never fully overcame, but later learned to mask. After a year working with Hess, he ended up drafted -- into the French Air Force, no less -- during which time he shaved his head and sported a monocle, two attributes that gave him a bizarre appearance and got him the nickname, for a time, of "The Singing Madman." He resumed his career and civilian status in 1936, amid that brief mid-'30s period of social and economic reform, culminating with the election of the Popular Front government under Leon Blum. By that time, Trenet had outgrown the Chevalier impressions and came to be known for his smooth, light baritone which, coupled with his seemingly relaxed persona, won over audiences in music hall performances. At one of his most famous engagements, in 1938, he was scheduled to sing three songs in what was the opening set of the evening and was called back by the audience and performed a total of 12 songs that night, and the featured performer never went on.