Robert Charlebois (1944-)

Robert Charlebois
Robert Charlebois (photo: Sylvain Dumais)

Year Born: 1944

Year of Induction: 2008

Member of CAB Hall of Fame

Charlebois, Robert (1944- )

In a career spanning over 30 years, writer/composer/musician/performer Robert Charlebois became a central figure in song, not only in Québec but throughout the entire French-speaking world.
Affectionately nicknamed Garou, Charlebois was born in Montreal on June 25, 1944. He made his first stage appearance in September 1962 – he was not yet twenty – when he opened for Félix Leclerc at La Butte-à-Mathieu. In 1965, he garnered attention with La boulée, composed when he was 16, which won him the Grand Prix du Festival du disque.

Then, in 1967, his career took off. He brought out a third record with the cover showing him wearing his famous flowered soldier’s helmet. But above all, it was the songs that would mark his repertoire: the nearly psychedelic C’est pour ça, the tender Marie-Noël and the colourful Demain l’hiver.

In 1968, he obtained his first major triumph with the creation of a brilliant show entitled L’Osstidcho that responded to the aspirations of anticonformist young people avid for change. Charlebois and his accomplices Yvon Deschamps and Louise Forestier amazed the cultural scene with their boldness and provocative humour. A short time later he won the Grand Prix du Festival de la chanson française at Spa, Belgium for his two songs Lindberg and California. In 1969, he performed for the first time at the Olympia in Paris, another outstanding show, and at the Toronto Pop Festival.  He also obtained first prize for performance at Sopot, Poland with his song entitled Ordinaire.

In the 1970s, Charlebois, who collaborated notably with writer Réjean Ducharme, continued to accumulate success with titles such as Le mur du son, Conception, Fu Man Chu, Cauchemar and The Frog Song.

Throughout his career, Charlebois received numerous prizes and distinctions testifying to the recognition of his peers and the quality of his thousands of shows and more than twenty albums: Prix de l’Académie Charles-Cros, Médaille d’or des Olympiades de la chanson, Prix de la Ville de Paris, Médaille de Vermeil from the Académie française and Canada’s Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. Finally, in 1993, the ADISQ awarded him its Félix Hommage for his work in its entirety.

In 2001, Robert Charlebois undertook something of a comeback with a new album entitled Doux sauvage, once again amazing both critics and public with the quality of his texts and his music, poetry and energy. The release of Tout écartillé in 2005 with a repertoire of songs that were still current both in words and music proved that he had not run out of steam.

Like other giants of Quebec song before him such as Leclerc and Vigneault, Robert Charlebois marked his era and profoundly influenced numerous writer/composer/performers. Without him, there might not have been a Richard Desjardins, a Jean Leloup, the Colocs or Cowboys Fringants.

In November 2008, Robert Charlebois was inducted into the Music Star category of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.

Written by Pip Wedge – November, 2008