Patricia Kaas has been called the new Edith Piaf and the French Madonna. She has toured Europe, Russia, and Japan, and has sold millions of albums outside of her native France. “She is a chanteuse in the most complete sense of the term,” wrote Ester Laushway in Europe, “a cat-eyed, fragile figure whose husky voice belongs in dark, smoky cabarets…” Kaas specializes in updating the French chanson style, a tradition that combines pop, blues, and jazz. “Her real claim to fame, though,” wrote Brendan Kelly in the Montreal Gazette, “is the fact that she happens to possess what is arguably the sexiest voice in the entire pop universe and the hottest set of stage moves this side of mid-’60s Mick Jagger.”
Kaas was born on December 5, 1966, in Forbach, France, a steel mining region near the German border. Her father was a French coalminer and her mother, who had emigrated from Germany, promoted her daughter’s career in show business. “Papa wanted me to be happy and my mother was my first fan,” Kaas told Charles Bremner in the London Times. “She never forced me but she used to say, ‘You have to fight to make it.’” Kaas learned songs by Claude François and Dalida, and by the age of eight, she began performing publicly. “Each time there was a singing contest, I would go there,” Kaas told Music & Media. “For me, it was a real pleasure. I even had a band at the age of nine.”
At age 13 Kaas began performing at the Rumpelkammer (“Fun Room”) in Saarbrücken, Germany. She traveled across the border each weekend, becoming a performer-in-residence, singing the songs of Liza Minelli, Sylvie Vartan, and Joni Mitchell. “The German beer tents were the best school,” she told Philip Sweeney in the Independent, “they were all drunk, you really learn how to handle an audience.” At age 17 Kaas entered a song contest and won a trip to Monaco, allowing her to see the beach for the first time in her life. Two years later, she was spotted by Bernard Schwartz, an architect who was involved in the music industry. “When I first saw this skinny little girl,” Schwartz told Bremner, “I said to myself it isn’t possible that it was her singing like that.” He helped Kaas make her first demo tape and introduced her to industry professionals.
In 1985 Kaas attended record company auditions; at one such tryout she met actor Gerard Depardieu. He became interested in her career and agreed to finance her first single, “Jalouse.” The song, however, failed to catch on, and Depardieu discontinued his sponsorship. Between this false start and coping with an illness her mother suffered from, Kaas’s career stalled until 1987, when songwriter Didier Barvelivien gave her a piece titled “Mandemoiselle Chante le Blues.” “People were telling me,” she said to Music & Media, “‘it’s not commercial enough.’ But I fought for it, did what was necessary, called radio stations, tried to get people interested.” Her hard work paid off when the single started selling, seven months after its initial release.
Born on December 5, 1966, in Forbach, France.
Performed at the Rumpelkammer Club in Germany, age 13; released first hit single, “Jalouse,” 1987; released debut album, Scène de Vie, 1990; embarked on world tour, 1991; performed in Hanoi, Vietnam, and the Ukraine, 1993–94; released Dans ma Chair, 1997; released Le Mot de Passe, 1999; appeared in the film And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, released Piano Bar, 2002.
Awards: Victoires de la Musique Awards (France), Revelation of the Year, 1989.
Addresses: Record company —Sony, 550 Madison Ave., 16th Floor, New York, NY 10022, phone: (212) 833-8000, website: http://www.sonyclassical.com. Website —Patricia Kaas Official Website: http://www.patriciakaas.net.
In 1989 Kaas was named Revelation of the Year at the Victoires de la Musique Awards in France, and in 1990, she released Scène de Vie, her debut album. Good sales and radio play quickly transformed Kaas into a pop star. Scène de Vie went platinum in France, Belgium, and Switzerland, reached the top 20 on German radio, and remained on the German radio charts for 44 weeks. “You always hope for success,” Kaas told Music & Media, “but, you know, I wasn’t really getting the full meaning of sales figures… I knew something was happening, but I was just speeding along.” In 1990 Kaas signed with CBS/Sony in an effort to launch an international career.
After the release of Scène de Vie, Kaas departed on a world tour, performing before thousands of fans in several countries. In 1991 she was awarded the Bambi Award in Germany, and in 1992 she sold out eight American shows. “We really felt it was important for people—especially the media—to see her live,” Cyril Prieur told Music & Media. “As we couldn’t invite all of them to France, we found it more convenient to go over there.” After the release of Je Te dis Vous, an album that sold 2.5 million copies in 1993, Kaas toured once again, traveling through 13 countries.
In 1993 and 1994 Kaas toured 19 countries and performed 145 concerts. She became the first French performer to travel to Hanoi since the end of the Vietnam War. She also traveled to Russia for eight shows, including a benefit concert in the Ukraine for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Kaas admitted that one concert wouldn’t change the fate of the thousands who lived in the quarantined town of Slavutich, but she told Catherine Cote of Agence France-Presse, “it is already a good thing to be there and tell people that we are thinking of them.” In the mid- to late 1990s, Kaas continued to release albums while working hard to enter the British and American markets. Speaking of Britain, she told Bremner, “I like fighting in a country which is completely closed to French music. It’s good to have the feeling that you have to keep starting from the beginning and trying to convince people that French music exists.”
In 2002 Kaas broadened her career by starring with Jeremy Irons in the film And Now Ladies and Gentlemen. “While shooting, I realized I have many different aspects that I did not think of,” she told Han Hyeon-woo of the Korean newspaper Chosun llbo online. “If allowed, I’d love to do more films.” She also released Piano Bar, featuring English versions of French songs. “When I sing in a different language, it takes the songs out of that traditional context, it liberates them,” she told Rupert Smith of the Guardian. With an English movie and a tour to support her new album, Kaas’s presence on the international stage has continued to grow. When asked by Music & Media what she had accomplished during the first ten years of her career, Kaas responded: “Well, it looks as if we have covered quite some ground, haven’t we? And there’s no reason to stop at this stage.”
Scène de Vie, CBS, 1990.
Je Te dis Vous, Sony, 1993.
Tour de Charme (live), Columbia, 1993.
Carnets de Scène, Sony, 1994.
Mademoiselle Chante, Polygram, 1995.
Rendez-Vous, Sony, 1998.
Live, Sony, 2000.
Piano Bar, Columbia, 2002.
Agence France-Presse, May 2, 1995.
Europe, April 1996, p. 35.
Guardian (England), November 4, 2002.
Independent (England), February 3, 1994, p. 3.
Montreal Gazette, June 28, 1994, p. B5.
Music & Media, May 30, 1992, p. 5; January 24, 1998, p. 25.
Times (London, England), January 21, 1995.
“Patricia Kaas,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 11, 2002).
“Patricia Kaas Wows Audience,” Chosun llbo, http://english.chosun.com/ (November 11, 2002).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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