senators’ statements — Robert Charlebois, O.C., O.Q.

June 12, 2019


Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to a great Quebecer and national treasure, Robert Charlebois, who will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday this month.

This renowned artist has won too many honours and awards over the course of his career to mention them all. What matters is that we acknowledge Mr. Charlebois’ impact on an entire generation of Quebecers.

Robert Charlebois was the coolest guy around at the time. It’s true. His music was rooted in the great poetic tradition of Quebec singer-songwriters, but it was also electrifying and irreverent with a 1960s psychedelic rock vibe. Whether it was his great duet with Louise Forestier in the classic song Lindberg or one of his more poignant pieces like Ordinaire or Je reviendrai à Montréal, Robert Charlebois’ music made its mark on an entire generation of Quebecers.

And not only Quebecers of French origin. More than any other artist, Robert Charlebois turned a generation of English-speaking Quebecers onto the creative richness of the Quebec music scene and, through that, to the Quebec cultural and political revolution through which we were all living together. For many like me, Robert Charlebois was part of our political and cultural existential awakening as Quebecers.

He also blazed a trail for others. His appearances in Paris opened the doors for generations of Quebec artists to find success in France and elsewhere in Europe. The French, or at least the Parisians, used to be somewhat condescending, if not downright dismissive, of the way we spoke French in Quebec. But after Charlebois, all of a sudden, joual was cool!

As he approaches his seventy-fifth birthday later this month, is he resting on his laurels? Hardly. Last week, he performed three sold-out shows at Place des Arts in Montreal, and his new album, released just a few months ago — his twenty-fifth — contains all the elements that we have come to love in his music: a hint of Bo Diddley in the opening track, a soupçon of doo-wop in Les Filles de mon âge and an exquisitely lovely reflection on life and aging in the title track, Et voilà.