Herb Alpert and “The French Song”

Happy birthday to trumpet player, music executive and philanthropist Herb Alpert! It’s appropriate on this day to tell the true story of Herb’s connection to Canada and the Vancouver area.

Almost a decade before Joni Mitchell and Anne Murray, Canada had its own international million-selling recording artist: Lucille Starr. She was born Lucille Marie Raymonde Savoie in St. Boniface, MB in 1938. Lucille was a natural musician and could play guitar, bass and mandolin.

Old friend Larry LeBlanc has more:

“Lucille Starr is one of Canada’s most successful pioneering musical acts, and should be recognized with the country’s highest honour for her profound impact upon Canadian culture. She Is one of a handful of Canadian popular musicians to successfully record in both English and French. Lucille was the first female inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association’s Hall of Honour in 1987. Two years later, she was one of the inaugural inductees into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.

Lucille’s performing aspirations were nurtured early. At age six in St. Boniface, she knew she wanted to sing and dance. At 7, Lucille and her family moved first to Windsor, and then to Maillardville, BC (a Francophone community that is now part of Coquitlam). During this time her professional singing career began as a member of the French-language choir group, Les Hirondellles. While still in her teens, Lucille was hired as a singer by the local Keray Regan Band. Then marrying bandleader Bob Regan, billed as The Canadian Sweethearts, the couple released a number of recordings in the late ’50s, and toured throughout Canada with top Canadian stars Hank Snow and Wilf Carter.

Moving to Los Angeles in the early ’60s, Lucille met singer Dorsey Burnette. He recommended her to Herb Alpert, who had just co-founded A&M Records. In 1963, The Canadian Sweethearts were signed to A&M. It was Alpert who matched Lucille with the song ‘Quand le soleil dit bonjour aux montagnes’ (‘When the sun says hello to the mountains’). For its release on Lucille’s 1964 solo A&M debut album ‘The French Cut,’ Alpert shortened the song’s title to ‘The French Song’ because he couldn’t pronounce the original title.

Released at the height of the British music Invasion, ‘The French Song,’ sung in both French and English and characterized by Starr’s distinctive vibrato, captured hearts all over the world. The recording sold an astonishing 7 million copies. Lucille became the first Canadian female artist to have a record sell over one million copies in Canada. The enormous popularity of ‘The French Song’ led to a sizeable international career for the young Canadian singer.

Without Lucille Starr’s lead as a forceful musical pioneer, and without her artistic beliefs and ideals, Canada’s music industry, particularly its country music sector, may not have so quickly found the foundation to evolve as a recognized international source of new music.”

Thanks, Larry! Lucille Starr died in Las Vegas on September 4, 2020 at the age of 82. She was inducted into both the Canadian Aboriginal Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Aboriginal Hall of Fame, and her name is also on the honour roll of the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame as a pioneer. In her honour, a street in the city of Coquitlam was named Lucille Starr Drive. Drive north from Lougheed Highway on Schoolhouse Street to the first traffic light. You can’t miss it!