The Story Of Sylvie Vartan
Blonde, Beautiful, and Bulgarian
Considering that Sylvie Vartan was the definitive French pop star during the sixties, you would have at least expected that she be of French descent. However, Sylvie Vartan was born in Iskretz, Bulgaria in 1944, and spent most of her childhood there. It wasn't until 1952 that the Vartan family packed up and immigrated to Paris. The Paris life agreed with her- she excelled in school, mastered the French language, and by the age of 15 she was taking her first baby steps on the path to stardom.
Her older brother, Eddie Vartan, began to show signs of promising musical talent, and his competent songwriting and arranging skills landed him jobs with already established artists like Gillian Hills and Frankie Jordan. When Gillian Hills skipped out on her recording session with Eddie, it was Sylvie who replaced her and lent her vocals to a Frankie Jordan EP called "Panne D'Essence" ("Breakdown"). After a couple of stints with Frankie, Eddie was confident that his sister would make a fine solo singer. With a little convincing and Eddie's songwriting and production assistance, Sylvie Vartan made her solo debut in 1961 on RCA Records with a song called "Quand Le Film Est Triste" ("When The Film Is Sad").
The love for Sylvie Vartan was instant; the French went absolutely mad for her! Who could resist her golden-blonde locks, petit frame, and doll face? She was gorgeous, smart, and a blossoming pop singer.
I bought my first Sylvie Vartan record six years ago, thinking that she would sound similar to her yé-yé contemporaries, France Gall and Françoise Hardy. The voice that sounded from the record was nothing like I expected. Her sophisticated bluesy voice completely clashed with her girly image. I didn't like what I heard one bit, and tossed the record aside.
As much as I dismissed Sylvie's sound, her bright and beautiful EP sleeves were captivating enough for me to shell out the cash for a batch of more EPs. I was determined to find a record that matched the face. Among the many Sylvie EPs that I finally amassed, most of her early records turned out to be French covers of American hits like "The Locomotion," "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," and "Turn, Turn, Turn." She did do a fab version of "Comin' Home Baby" (renamed "Ne T'en Vas Pas") in 1963. And a trip to Nashville in late 1963 resulted in one of Sylvie's biggest hits worldwide, "La Plus Belle Pour Aller Danser." written by Charles Aznavour exclusively for Sylvie.
Her later records were mostly originals; some were gorgeous thundering ballads that called for Sylvie's deep, sophisticated vocals. "Cette Lettre La" (1965), "Il Ya Deux Filles En Moi" (1966), and "Par Amour, Par Pitié" (1966) are some of Sylvie Vartan's finest recordings.
By 1965, Sylvie had become a French idol in the truest sense. She married rock n'roll pretty boy, Johnny Halliday (often dubbed the "French Elvis") at an extravagant wedding reception with over 2,000 people in attendance, and hundreds of fans loitering outside the church. She toured Japan, South America, and the United States. And by the end of '66, she gave birth to her first child, David. Sylvie Vartan lived the picture perfect life- that is until February 1970 when she was seriously injured in a car accident with hubby Johnny Halliday. Johnny came out of the crash unharmed, but Sylvie required major plastic surgery to rebuild her damaged face.
The story doesn't end here for Sylvie Vartan; she is still very much an idol in France. A lavish photo book was recently published which covers Sylvie's lengthy career. With her numerous makeovers and career changes from the sixties through today one can see that some things never change. Sylvie is still blonde, beautiful, and adored by the French. To those outside France, she is still a complete wonder.