Popular American Musicians with French Roots

The French definitely have innate musical and artistic talents, and there’s no doubt about that. They have expanded these talents from their home country to many parts of the world, including the USA, through generations. C’est magnifique!

American musicians and artists of French descent have definitely made big waves not just in Hollywood, but globally. Here are some of them:


1. Elvis Presley

There is no lengthy introduction needed — he is the “King of Rock n’ Roll” or simply “The King.”

He is one of the iconic figures of 1950s-1970s music scene, and his image is still one of the most imitated and impersonated. Presley’s suave good looks were no secret, nor a product of some human intervention. Blame his ancestry for that! His bloodline primarily consists of German, Scots, Irish and French (or French Norman). He also had a distant Cherokee-Indian ancestry.

2. Madonna

You know that Madonna — born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan in 1958 — has Italian roots. But what you may have not been aware is that she also has a French-Canadian ancestry, from her mother’s side.

As you may have known, Madonna’s popularity first exploded in the 1980s, where she rose to become a music and fashion icon. Her 80s albums like Like a Virgin and True Blue became global bestsellers. But as years passed, she never got complacent and instead kept on reinventing herself, as evidenced in her successful 1998 album Ray of Light. She is also an actress (with film credits such as A League of Their Own and Evita) and businesswoman.

3. Cher

Music, fashion and acting icon Cher rose to fame as one-half of the famous 1960s duo Sonny and Cher, with Sonny Bono as her real-life husband at the time. The pair’s most well-known hit is the pop gem “I Got You Babe.”

But like Madonna, she never rested on her laurels. Even so, she outshone her prime in the 1960s with later hits such as her album Believe (1998) whose title track topped the US Billboard Hot 100 and other charts in many parts of the world. Her 2013 album, Closer to the Truth, also became a hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard 200 album charts.

Cher’s unique physical features can be attributed to her mixed racial background. She was born Cherilyn Sarkisian in California in 1946, to her American-Armenian father and her English-German mother (who also had more distant French and Irish ancestry).

4. Kurt Cobain

Seattle grunge trio Nirvana almost single-handedly put those “hair metal” bands out of the scene by the unexpected breakthrough success of their second album Nevermind in 1991. But despite the superstardom, the band’s frontman Kurt Cobain felt uncomfortable with the fame, and struggled with drugs and depression. His eventual suicide in 1994 triggered shock waves from fans all over the world.

Nirvana’s fame and success helped popularize alternative rock and indie rock, and bands/artists up to this day are influenced by the band’s musical style and legacy.

Unless one is a die-hard Nirvana and Cobain fan, not many know about his early life. He was born on February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington. His ancestry, according to sources, includes Irish, Dutch, German, Scottish and French.

5. Beyoncé

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles was born in 1981 in Houston, Texas. The former Destiny’s Child lead singer has come a long way, scoring hit singles like “Irreplaceable,” “Beautiful Liar,” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

Beyoncé is also considered one of the fashion trendsetters. She is now married to the successful rapper/producer Jay-Z, becoming one of the most powerful celebrity couples.

Her name has a French twang to it — a tribute to her distant French heritage and to her mother, Tina Knowles, whose maiden name is Beyincé. Tina’s ancestry is of Louisiana Creole, and is a direct descendant of 18th-century Acadian leader Joseph Broussard (aka “Beausoleil”) who is considered a hero during the British resistance and the French and Indian War.

Beyoncé has a younger sister, Solange, who is also a singer-songwriter, actress and model. She also worked with Destiny’s Child for a time as a backup dancer and songwriter.

6. Alice Cooper

Shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier in Detroit, Michigan in 1948. Cooper has a French Huguenot ancestry, apart from English, Irish, Scottish and Sioux.

Alice Cooper (the band, that is) rose to fame for their predilection for anything gory and grotesque which they displayed on their live performances, giving birth to the “shock rock” sub-genre.

Furnier legally adopted the band’s moniker Alice Cooper as his own name in the mid-1970s. Away from performing and recording, Cooper acts, hosts a rock-oriented radio show and dabbles in his other passion, golf.

7. Izzy Stradlin

Jeffrey Dean Isbell, best known in his stage name as Izzy Stradlin, is a guitarist and one of the founding members of the legendary hard rock/heavy metal band Guns N’ Roses. Born in 1962 in Lafayette, Indiana, Stradlin’s ancestry includes English, German, Irish, Scottish and French.

8. Zooey Deschanel

Although she has made a bigger name as an actress (she’s known for her films such as (500) Days of Summer and for the TV sitcom New Girl), Zooey Deschanel is also proficient in music. Especially among the indie circles, she is known as the one-half of the male-female indie folk duo She & Him where she sings lead vocals and plays the ukelele and keyboards.

Zooey primarily has a French ancestry; she also has Swiss, Irish, English and Dutch blood. Actress Emily Deschanel (best known for her work in the TV series Bones) is Zoeey’s older sister. Their father is cinematographer and director Caleb Deschanel and their mother is actress Mary Jo Weir.

9. JoJo

R&B/pop singer-songwriter and actress JoJo was born Joanna Noëlle Levesque in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1990. At only thirteen years old, JoJo became the youngest singer to hit the #1 spot of the Billboard Hot 100 chart thorugh her single “Leave (Get Out)” in 2004. Her #3 hit pop single “Too Little Too Late (2006) garnered her first platinum record. As of 2013, JoJo has sold around seven million albums worldwide.

Like many people on this list, she has a French ancestry (in addition to Polish, Irish and Native American).

10. David Benoit

Seasoned jazz pianist and producer David Benoit was born in Bakersfield, California in 1953. Among his best works are Freedom at Midnight (1987) and Waiting for Spring (1988). Most of his material has been released under GRP record label, although he has also issued albums on other labels like Blue Moon and AVI.

He has worked with several artists such as Patti Austin, Faith Hill, Kenny Loggins and Brian McKnight, and has performed at the White House. Benoit is also popular among fans of the “easy listening” genre.

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Famous Musicians from France

France introduced the world’s first recording device called the “phonautograph,” which was patented by inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857. Stating this fact, it may well be concluded that France has a rightful place in the world of music, aside from the arts and culture which the country is also globally renowned for.

French Phonautograph

When you think of French music, perhaps the classical music greats almost automatically come to mind such as Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Satie and Berlioz; its world-famous operas and cabarets; or the poetic chansons that tugged the hearts and minds not just of the French people but of other people in many parts of the world; the country is undisputedly the home of the world’s greatest romantic composers, chanteur and chanteuse such as Georges Brassens, Serge Gainsbourg, Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf.

But France is more than classical music, cabarets and chansons. Like in many other countries, France’s music scene has evolved throughout the centuries. In the modern era, it has become more known for electronic and house music, although it has thrown several pop gems that became massive commercial hits in and also outside the country.

Here are some of the world-renowned French musicians from the 20th century up to the present:

1. Jacques Brel

(“Ne Me Quitte Pas” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vz6r0TP4FBI)
The late singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, although actually a Belgian, is known for his songs that captivated listeners not just in Belgium and France, but in many parts of the world as well. His work has wielded considerable influence on many artists, singer-songwriters as well as composers.Jacques Brel

Brel’s songs have been adapted into several languages. As expected, their interpretations and treatments may be quite too far from what Brel actually conveyed in his own songs, but the gist and the message basically remain the same. If you haven’t known it yet, you might be surprised to discover that some of the most famous pop tunes are actually re-hashed versions of Brel’s original work, particularly “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (“If You Go Away”) and “Le Moribond” (“Seasons in the Sun”). More of his well-known works also include “Jackie,” “Quand on n’a que l’amour” (“If We Only Have Love”), “Amsterdam” (also known as “The Port of Amsterdam” in English), “Mathilde” and a lot more.

His songs have been covered by many music legends, including Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Ray Charles, Andy Williams, David Bowie, Celine Dion, Rod McKuen, Julio Iglesias, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf (who was a legend herself in France), Dusty Springfield, Sting, and many others.

2. Edith Piaf
(“La Vie en Rose” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFzViYkZAz4)
The late singer-songwriter Edith Piaf was one of the first French singers who enjoyed international fame. She is also regarded as one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. Her songs mirrored her personal life, loves and sorrows. “La Vie en Rose” is certainly her signature song, which has been covered a lot of times since it was released in 1946. Many versions of “La Vie en Rose” became Billboard chart placers and these were performed by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crsosby, Ralph Flanagan, Tony Martin, Paul Weston, and Victor Young. Disco queen Donna Summer and Jamaican actress/singer/model Grace Jones also released their own versions of the song. Because of its enduring popularity, “La Vie en Rose” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Piaf’s life was recounted in the 2007 film La Vie en Rose, where lead star Marion Cotillard won the Oscar Best Actress award for her portrayal of the troubled Parisian-born chanteuse.  (See the top winning Academy Award Actresses of all time.)

3. Serge Gainsbourg

(“Je t’aime… moi nun plus” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3Fa4lOQfbA)
Particularly in his home country, Serge Gainsbourg was (and is) a legend. On the other hand, he has been revered as a cult figure in the English-speaking world. On the surface, he was known for his penchant for the provocative and scandalous — his most famous (or notorious) work being “Je t’aime… moi non plus,” whose eroticism was too graphic that even provoked the Vatican to denounce it.

But you cannot censure Gainsbourg in terms of talent in any way. He was a true artiste who couldn’t just be pigeonholed. He was known for his prolific and diverse output, making as if he left no musical stone unturned during his colorful life and career. Gainsbourg tackled chanson, pop, jazz, reggae, funk, disco, electronic and new wave, among many other musical genres. His lyrical style — abundant in imagery, wordplay, puns and of course double-entendres — as well as arrangements in particular, have influenced many generations of musicians in and outside of France.

4. Françoise Hardy

(“Tous les garçons et les filles”- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aLoezucIzk)
There was no doubt about it, Françoise Hardy was at the forefront of the “yé-yé” French pop music scene during the 1960s. She was also (and still is) considered a fashion icon in her home country and elsewhere. Hardy’s most well-known recording is “Tous les garçons et les filles,” (“all the boys and girls”) which became a massive hit in France in 1962 and has launched numerous cover versions in several languages, including versions by the Eurythmics and The Dresden Dolls.

5. France Gall

(“Poupée de cire, poupée de son” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZo3cUtZNG4)
France Gall was a teen sensation and another popular figure of the “yé-yé” pop music scene in France during the 60s. Many of her hits were penned by the legendary Serge Gainsbourg, including “Les sucettes” and “Poupée de cire, poupée de son,” which was Luxembourg’s entry to the 1965 Eurovision song contest — something which their own home country retrospectively holds a grudge against her and Gainsbourg.

Although Gall was initially criticized for her “off-key” singing of the number, “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” eventually won the Eurovision contest, ensuring her popularity to be extending outside of Europe.

“Poupée de cire, poupée de son” proved to be so popular that it has had several covers in different languages that range from Spanish to Hebrew to Japanese.

6. Daft Punk

(“Get Lucky” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5EofwRzit0)
The French have also gained renown in electronic, dance and house music movement, producing stellar artists such as Étienne de Crécy and Tahiti 80. But there is no doubt that the Grammy Award-winning electronic duo Daft Punk is the most famous French export in this genre. Their most commercially successful single is “Get Lucky,” featuring American singer Pharrell Williams and American guitarist/songwriter/producer Nile Rodgers. It peaked at #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the UK chart in 2013, in addition to being a massive dance chart hit in many countries.

In 1993, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter formed Daft Punk from the ashes of a short-lived indie rock band named Darlin’. They enjoyed their really first global recognition when their second studio album Discovery (2001) became a hit on several charts (including the US Billboard 200 album chart where it peaked at #23). Despite their fame, the duo mostly prefer to hide behind their signature robotic costumes when appearing in live performances and in their music videos; also, they rarely grant interviews.

7. Air

(“Sexy Boy” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_ulZiob5I0)
Students Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel formed Air in Versailles in 1995. In 1998 Air releaed their debut album Moon Safari, which garnered critical acclaim not just in France but internationally as well. It yielded three top 30 UK hits: “Sexy Boy,” “Kelly Watch the Stars” and “All I Need.” “Sexy Boy” also placed #22 on Billboard‘s dance and electronic charts.

Air also began to work with American director Sofia Coppola by providing the film score to her film The Virgin Suicides (2000). The film itself became a cult hit and the while the soundtrack album charted at #161 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Since then, Air have often collaborated with Coppola by contributing works to soundtracks of her other films like Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette.

Air’s second studio album, 10 000 Hz Legend (#88 on the Billboard 200 in 2001) showed the duo venturing deeper into electronic pop. The album also featured collaborations with Beck and other indie artists.

They went on to release six more albums, their latest to date being 2014’s Music for Museum.

8. Paul Mauriat

(“Love is Blue” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjsNNcsUNzE&pbjreload=10)
French composer and orchestra leader Paul Mauriat’s name may not immediately ring to anyone’s ears, but their faces may probably be lit the moment they hear his instrumental version of “Love Is Blue.” The song itself was an English version of “L’amour est bleu” which was written by composer André Popp and lyricist Pierre Cour. It was Luxembourg’s entry to the 1967 Eurovision song contest — although it didn’t win, it eventually became a massive international hit, having launched several versions since.

The most famous of these versions is Paul Mauriat’s instrumental cover which was released in late 1967. It went all the way to #1 on the Billboard pop chart in early 1968, becoming probably the best known cover version of the song.

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Ode to French Wine

When you think of wine you probably think of France and Napa Valley.  For many centuries the only thing you thought of when it came to wine was France.  France has a long history in the wine making business and a world wide reputation.  Here are a few interesting facts you probably didn’t know about French Wine.

French Wine

1 –  France Didn’t Invent Wine…

Wine making started way back to well before France was a thing.  The Egyptians were making wine and it was quite popular and was a stable of the Romans who turned it into the more refined approach to wine we are familiar with.  The Greek brought wine to Gaul where it eventually became a true gastronomic art form in the area around Marseille France (formerly Massala) and took off from there.

2 – Champagne was invented by a monk

The venerable Dom Pérignon was a monk loved the art of making wine and experimenting with new ideas.  He accidentally produced a new type of wine in the late 17th century.  He apparently was quite excited and exclaimed “I am drinking stars!”.  The French monastic orders such as the Cistercians and Benedictines contributed significantly to the art and process of making wine.  Their chief focus was for liturgical mass but the result was preserving and improving wine making processes.

3 – Wine is the ancestor of Coca- Cola

It might just be a distant aunt or uncle but still related.  Angelo Mariani who was a French chemist who was very interested the health value of coca leaves started to sell a wine called Vin Tonique Mariani which has a combination of coca leaves and French Bordeaux wine.

The effect of this combination was the creation of cocaine in the process.  This combination was popular among such luminaries as Queen Victoria, Pope Pius X and Thomas Edison.  It helped to give them energy (no wonder!).

This concoction was a key inspiration for John Pemberton’s wine drink recipe he developed in 1885.  It probably would of been a huge success but prohibition was passed in the United States Pemberton developed a non-alcoholic version.  It was ultimately renamed to Coca-Cola because it combined coca leaves  kola nuts (the source of caffeine). The rest as they say is history with Coca-Cola going through a few transformations to the drink we know today – and it all started with French wine.

4 – Viva La French Wine (or something like that)

How much do the French love wine?  Well its a lot… in fact during World War II French wine makers hid away important roots, vines and bottles of wine from the German invaders.  They felt it was critical to preserve as a key part of French culture.

5 – Its the soil stupid…

We all know what goes in affects what comes out. Thats true of wine. The type and quality of the soil that the grapes are planted and grown has a great impact on the quality of the wine.  In fact French wines are named based on the soil from which they are produced versus the type of grape.  For example, French Bordeaux wines come from the Bordeaux region.  French law even dictates that wines must be named by region.

6 – France is one of the largest producers of wine in the world.  The demand continues to grow as wine demand world wide grows.  They produce about 6 million bottles of wine a year – drink up!

7- The three primary red wine regions (remember they are named by the area not the variety of grape) are Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône.

8 – Champagne is France’s most popular wine, as well as the country’s global brand.

9 – French wines have different levels of classification.  As an example “Vin de Table” is table wine and comes only with the guarantee that it was made in France and thats about it.   Where as “Vin de Pays” for example is made from specific grapes and carries the name of a particular region.

10 – The French love their wine consuming around 60 Liters of wine per person per year.   Thats more than any other country and roughly 60% of that is red wine, 25% rose and 15% white.


11 – Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest French wine region with 528,000 acres. Bordeaux has 306,000 acres and Rhône Valley has 188,700 acres.

12 – Some of the most popular and most rare and of course most expensive wines in the world come from France.  Here are a couple of eye popping examples:

  • Chateau Margaux 1787 – $500,000
  •  Chateau Lafite 1787 – $160,000
  • Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945 – $23,000
  • Chateau Margaux 2009 Balthazar – $4,062
  • Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 1990 – $20,975
  • Chateau Lafite 1865 – $4,650


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Ode to France

Bonjour!  Its my first post on my new site and if you love all things French including pop, classic rock, punk, techno, etc. music this is the site for you!  We will be covering many things French including culture, wine, cheese, history, music and more.

This site will be written from an American perspective of French life.  With such a strong and rich cultural heritage for the whole history of France as a nation its only natural to that France has such as strong modern music scene as well.  That is one topic we will be covering in some depth!

More to come!  Au Revoir

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