Françoise Hardy

Born: January 17, 1944

Died: June 11, 2024

Françoise Hardy, who has died aged 80, was a singer and songwriter who first came to prominence in the 1960s, when her downbeat compositions and exotic appearance subverted the British pop charts and made her an international star. Her appearances on Top of the Pops and Ready Steady Go made her an icon, even as she seemed to shy away from the fame that came with having hit singles such as All Over the World (1965), which spent 15 weeks in the UK charts.

As a singer songwriter, Hardy made more than 30 albums, and sold more than seven million records. She released her debut aged 18. As with many of her records, it was titled eponymously, but came to be known as Tous les garçons et les filles (All the Boys and Girls) (1962). "I walk down the streets, my soul in sorrow" she sang on the title track.

Hardy also inadvertently helped define what became known as yé-yé music, after French philosopher Edgar Morin saw Hardy in a TV interview in 1962 attempting to explain the lyrics of her song, La fille avec toi, which began with the words Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Morin picked up on this and wrote an article for Le Monde the following year.

Hardy's early image was in part defined by the numerous photographs taken by her then partner, Jean-Marie Perier. Male peers, including assorted Rolling Stones, were captivated by her, while Bob Dylan wrote her a poem that appeared on the sleeve of his Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) album. Hardy didn't seem too concerned either way. While Jean Luc Godard cast her in a small role in his film, Masculin Féminine (1966), she kept away from Paris's existential intellectual set. She nevertheless appeared in films, modelled and wrote novels, as well as two astrology books and an autobiography.

She duetted with Damon Albarn She duetted with Damon Albarn (Image: free)

In her later years, she recorded with a new generation of acolytes, including Brit-pop era Blur, duetting with Damon Albarn on the band's song, To the End, which became the B-side of the band's Country House single. She also recorded Jeanne with French electronic duo, Air, for the B-side of Sexy Boy.

Latterly, Hardy became a vocal advocate for euthanasia after being diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. In 2016, she was induced into a coma, before being revived by way of radiation.

While disparaging of her early recordings, Hardy's body of work possessed a deep-rooted sadness at its heart throughout. This came from shyness, anxiety and low self-esteem born of her own troubled background. Despite, and possibly because of this, her songs went beyond the chic melancholy of the era she arrived in, as their profound intimacy connected with audiences across several generations.

Françoise Madeleine Hardy was born in Paris to Madeleine Hardy and Etienne Dillard. With her wealthy father already married and largely absent, Hardy and her younger sister Michèle were raised single-handedly by their mother in modest surroundings in the 9tharrondissement, and went to a strict convent school.

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Hardy found solace in books and the radio, and lapped up the pop sounds of Elvis Presley, Billy Fury and Marty Wilde on Radio Luxembourg. She began writing songs after she talked her father into giving her a guitar for passing her exams when she was 16.

Despite her lack of confidence, she started playing at a local club in-between studying at the Sorbonne. She forced herself to audition for record companies and was eventually picked up by the Disques Vogue label, though not before enrolling in a school for radio performers after being advised to take singing lessons.

At her first recording session, she put down five songs in four hours. One of these, a lightweight confection called Oh oh chéri, was chosen as the A-side of her debut single. Hardy was horrified, though she needn't have worried, as it was the flipside, Tous les garcons et les filles, that captured the public's imagination.

While she became France's biggest pop star, her dissatisfaction saw her insist on recording further material in London under the eye of producer Charles Blackwell. With London about to swing, Hardy's doleful ballads became the perfect counterpoint. Numerous records followed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including La Question (1971), her eleventh album, recorded with Brazilian singer and guitarist Valeniza Zagni da Silva, better known as Tuca. The record was Hardy's personal favourite of her works.

Just as the contemporary pop world was influenced by Hardy, so she drew from those she inspired, with later records such as Le danger incorporating sounds picked up from the likes of Portishead. In 2000, she released Clair-Obscur, which featured both her husband, French pop star Jacques Dutronc, and her son, Thomas, as well as appearances from Iggy Pop and Etienne Daho.

After surviving lymphona, in 2008, she published an autobiography, which appeared translated into English a decade later as The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles. The same year she recorded Personne d'autre, and in interviews expressed enthusiasm for contemporary groups such as American dream pop band, Cigarettes After Sex. Coming from the woman once dubbed the queen of melancholy, this was high praise indeed.

In 2021, Hardy's health worsened, and she announced she would no longer be able to sing due to the effects of cancer therapy. In an interview with French magazine Femme Actuelle, she expressed a desire for assisted suicide, which isn't legal in France. The same year, her lyrics were collected and published in Chansons sur toi et nous, with accompanying commentary by Hardy.

A decade earlier Hardy declared of her work how "In music, I like above all the slow, sad melodies, that stir the knife in the wound. Not in a way that plunges, but in a way that uplifts. Because it feels good that the pains of feelings turn into something beautiful: a beautiful text, a beautiful melody. I still aspire to find the heartbreaking melody that will bring tears to my eyes. A melody whose quality gives it a sacred dimension."

Even as the pop world continues to catch up with her, Hardy's expansive canon remains as enchanting, as timeless and as beautifully sad as it ever did.

She is survived by her son, Thomas Dutronc, to her husband, Jacques Dutronc, who she married in 1981. The couple separated, but never divorced.