A change of name mid-career – from Céline to Séverine – was part of a move that helped propel the French singer to international success. A win at the Eurovision song contest in 1971 gave the singer a career in France and longer success in neighbouring Germany.
Born on 10 October 1948 in Paris, Josiane Grizeau grew up in unusual circumstances. Her father was a circus clown, though he later took a factory job to provide stability for the family.
After finishing school, the teenager took a job as a secretary, but she yearned to sing. Eventually she was offered a contract with the Vogue label in 1967, and released her first record, under the alias Céline.
The four-track EP contained three covers, including Tu dis September (a version of Try to remember) and Ne réponds pas (an Italian tune by Donatella Moretti, also recorded as Don’t answer me by Britain’s Cilla Black). Perhaps the most interesting track of the release was the Johnny Hallyday-penned Si tu veux vraiment oublier. However, even his name didn’t help sales, and when the disk flopped, Céline was quietly dropped by the label.
Nevertheless, every weekend she would continue to go to the Golf Drouot, a Paris dive where stars such as yé-yé girl Sheila and rocker Johnny Hallyday were discovered.
Eventually the tactic paid off and she won a second shot at a singing career. Performing with various bands, under the name Robbie Lorr, she was spotted by Georges Aber, the producer responsible for dozens of hits for the likes of Petula Clark and Claude François.
Aber decided to relaunch the singer, complete with a new name. So she became Séverine.
She was offered a recording contract with Philips and issued three singles in 1969. The first, Mama dis-moi pourquoi (a version of Edition Six’s Morning dew), also included Rien qu’une fille, a cover of Aretha Franklin’s Natural woman, a brave choice but one she pulled off with panache.
It was followed by Pleure sur nous (which included Je suis bien la même, a version of Barbara Ackin’s Am I the same girl) and La la mélodie (which had Je ferme les yeux et compte sur dix, a cover of Dusty Springfield’s I close my eyes and count to ten, on the flip).
In 1970 she released the theme to the film Le passager de la pluie, which topped the Japanese charts, though a second film theme, Du soleil plein les yeux, recorded with Francis Lai and issued in 1970, couldn’t repeat the success of its predecessor.
Meanwhile her entry to the French selection for the 1970 Eurovision song contest, the rousing C'est la vie, failed to make it into the top 16.
However, a year later, Séverine really made a name for herself, when she won the 1971 Eurovision song contest with Un banc, un arbre, une rue for neighbouring Monaco. The song went on to become a hit across Europe, even topping the charts in Sweden and making the top ten in the UK in its original French.
The win opened many doors for Séverine.
Her follow up, Comme un appel, made the top 20 in France in 1972 (though the version released in the UK – Sing me a love song – sank without trace). A third single, Mon tendre amour, was another French hit.
Sadly, a legal battle with Aber put paid to her chart career at home.
However, a parallel career in Germany lasted longer, with hits such as Ja, der Eiffelturm, Olala l'amour and Der Duft von Paris, and saw her sell six million records in the early 1970s.
It wasn’t until 2002 that she released her next French album, a live recording of a concert she had held in Paris.