In a country with a musical history as rich as France’s, it’s no surprise that there have been many famous and successful musicians over the years. From romantic composers to pop and rap, French musicians have achieved renown all over the world for their talent and skill.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the greatest and most famous French musicians of all time. Let’s get started.
1. Edith Piaf
Édith Piaf, with her pencil-thin brows and deep-set puppy-dog eyes, was France’s ‘national chanteuse’ in her time.
Chanteuse is the term used to describe a singer who typically sings in a nightclub and sings popular tunes of the day.
Hailing from Bellville, Paris, Piaf was the daughter of Moroccan Berber singer Annetta and street acrobat Louis-Alphonse; a combination that, on paper, primed her to become famous in the entertainment industry.
But it was not without hardship. Piaf’s mother abandoned her as soon as Piaf came into the world, and she was raised by her brothel-running grandmother.
One of her most well-known songs is ‘La vie en rose,’ a pop song. She sang pop, classical, and ‘chansons realistes’ styles.
2. Claude Debussy
Pianist and composer Claude Debussy graced another of our articles in the number one spot, and for good reason. One of the greatest French composers, arguably the best of all time, his work is the kind we all know without many of us realizing we know it.
If you’ve heard the piano piece ‘Claire de Lune,’ you’ve heard Debussy’s work. It’s been featured in countless films including Ocean’s 11.
Although French, Debussy was funded by Russian millionaires and traveled to Russia to learn and study music, playing for and with his patrons. Later, in Paris, he fell in love with Blanche Vasnier.
According to some, Debussy was an impressionist composer, but he reportedly disputed this claim adamantly during his lifetime. It is undeniable, however, that he inspired Impressionist and Symbolist painters of the day.
3. Vanessa Paradis
Next on the list, we have a well-known contemporary singer Vanessa Paradis who is the classic triple threat: model, singer, and actress.
Born in Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, France, Paradis sings R&B, rap, and pop, and started singing from the young age of seven.
She started releasing music early with her hit single, ‘Joe le taxi,’ coming out at the young age of only 14.
Fast forward two decades and Paradis has released 28 singles, two soundtrack albums, and 11 other albums and sold over four million albums in France.
4. Serge Gainsbourg
Next up we have Serge Gainsbourg who was born in the 4th arrondissement, Paris, France. He was super famous in France, although not as well known elsewhere.
He produced jazz, reggae, and pop, and was an actor, director, and published author. He is regarded as one of the most influential pop culture figures of his generation in France.
Gainsbourg was akin to Mick Jagger, and his songs such as ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ had risque overtures.
Unfortunately, some evidence suggests that his sexual tendencies were not just in his songs but perhaps towards unwilling women.
5. David Guetta
Born in Paris, France David Guetta is an electronic dance music (EDM) producer who currently holds two Grammys and is known as the ‘Grandfather of EDM.’
Sometimes incorrectly listed as a DJ, the difference between a ‘disc jockey’ and an ‘EDM producer’ bears explanation:
A disc jockey (DJ) is someone who mixes premade songs together, one after the other, to create a set of songs that blend into each other for a live performance, much like at a club or party.
On the other hand, an EDM producer is someone who creates the songs themselves, before playing them on stage, on a computer.
While there are many famous DJs, Guetta is a producer who makes his own music using instruments and computer programs. He reportedly favors the popular Ableton Live for his compositions.
6. Django Reinhardt
Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt was of Romani-French origins but was born in Liberchies, Belgium, and given the name Jean Reinhardt.
He didn’t just play the guitar. Reinhardt played banjo and violin in his early days. But he was involved in a caravan fire and two of his fingers stopped working, so he pivoted to only guitar.
A blessing in disguise, this handicap gave Reinhardt an unmatchable musical style that is very hard to mimic.
Tragically, he died at the young age of 43 in France from a brain hemorrhage. His hit songs are ‘Minor Swing,”Nuages,’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown.’
7. Avril Lavigne
Although punk rock sweetheart Avril Lavigne was born in Canada, she actually got her French passport in 2011 (due to her father being born in France) and now spends time in France often.
Guitar player, composer, and singer, she is best known for her hit songs, “Complicated”Girlfriend” and ”Sk8rboi.”
Lavigne started singing in church and signed her first record deal in the early 2000s.
Her songs are still playing on the radio today, but her music career slowed down over the past few years due to health complications that she is battling.
8. Fab Morvan
Fab Morvan is a model, singer, dancer, and songwriter — we think. He is most famous for not actually singing his music. Neither he nor his bandmate Rob Pilatus did, allegedly.
The astounding thing is, Morvan is actually a talented singer. But for one reason or another, Morvan and Pilatus created the pop musical duo Milli Vanilli and chose to lip-sync.
Morvan was born in Paris, France and now lives in Amsterdam. In 1998, Morvan’s big break was joining the LA radio station, KIIS-FM, as a DJ.
Another EDM producer from Paris, France Tchami’s real name is Martin Joseph Leonard Bresso.
Bresso reportedly got the stage name Tchami while visiting Africa. He got famous for his remix of ‘Go Deep’ by Janet Jackson and his recent hits include ‘Summer ’99‘ and ‘After Life.’
He often collaborates with fellow music producer Malaa and the two headlined Ultra Music Festival in Miami with a back-to-back closing set in 2018.
For the uninitiated, a back-to-back set is when two producers ‘ping-pong’ off each other during a musical performance. Sometimes this is done from one set of decks (the buttons producers push to mix, elevate, and transition or alter their songs on stage) or from two opposing stages.
Back-to-backs are rare and special, like when a rock band brings on a special surprise guest.
10. Gilbert Becaud
French pianist and singer Gilbert Becaud is quoted as saying, ‘A flower doesn’t understand botany’ when asked about his talent in playing piano, singing, composing, and acting.
Becaud was born in Toulon, France, and sang contemporary and jazz music.
He learned how to play the piano from a young age, but in 1942 (World War II) he joined the French Resistance.
He released a lot of music over his career but his most notable song is probably ‘Nathalie,’
Anggun, born Anggun Cipta Sasmi, is an Indonesian-French singer-songwriter-actor who holds the title for best-selling album outside Asia by an Asian artist.
She plays the piano and sings in rock, pop-rock, world, pop, electropop, R&B, urban, and dance music.
She struggled to get her music career off the ground in London before moving to Paris, where she met Erick Benzi who helped her produce ‘Snow on the Sahara,’ her best-selling album.
Her top song is ‘Mimpi’ which she released in 1989.
12. Michele Torr
Michele Torr was born in Pertius, France, and is best known as a pop singer and author.
Her career began when she won a singing contest when she was 15 years old, soon after winning a recording contract at age 16.
Like many of her fellow singers, she sang at the Paris Olympia, a significant achievement in any French singer’s career.
She has released numerous albums, the most recent of which was in 2016, and she appeared on TV multiple times over the years. Her top songs are ‘Lui,’ ‘Mon amour,’ and ‘J’aime.’
13. Juliette Greco
Juliette Grego was so much more than a singer — she was a muse and was one of the leading performers for almost seven decades in France.
In 1943, Greco’s mother was sent to a concentration camp and Greco herself was sent to prison at just 16 years old.
In 1951, her single ‘Je sui comme je sui‘ shot her to fame.
She was married three times in addition to an affair with Miles Davis and was known for strong left political views. She lived to be 93 years old.
14. Johnny Hallyday
Johnny Hallyday was the guitar player-singer ‘Elvis Presley of France’ with a turbulent offstage life to boot.
Beloved by the French, his career started on TV when he was 17 and skyrocketed because of his good looks and charm.
He introduced France to the twist dance move and even shared stages with Jimi Hendrix — and don’t get it twisted, Hendrix opened for Hallyday!
He filled giant stadiums through to the end of his career and is one of the greatest French entertainers ever.
His hits include ‘L’envie’ and ‘Quelque chose de Tennessee.’
15. Francoise Hardy
Born in Nazi-occupied Paris, Francoise Hardy grew to popularity during the ye-ye wave in France, a time of new youth pop culture that blended UK and USA pop and rock styles.
She has over 30 albums and sings love ballads that inspire melancholy, and wrote her own music which was rare in the 1960s for female singers.
She became famous in London as well as in France and played in huge music halls in France such as the Paris Olympia.
She was soft-spoken and reportedly felt like she was a bit trapped by her record label, which is a problem that still occurs to this day. She also was confused by her fame, a humble woman who didn’t understand why fame came so easily to her as opposed to her competition.
Summing Up Our List Of Great French Musicians
We hope you enjoyed our compiled list of these noteworthy French musicians that span multiple lifetimes.
This list ranges from singers to faux singers to instrument-players to electronic music producers at the top of their game, and we hope you found some new musical artists to explore!