Orchestra leader, composer
In early 1968, with rock music of all kinds pushing new experimental boundaries, an entirely different kind of song rose to the number-one position on music sales charts in the United States and remained there. "Love Is Blue," recorded by French orchestra leader Paul Mauriat, was an easy listening instrumental, instantly recognizable many decades later even for listeners who were unable to identify the name of the artist who had recorded it. Yet Mauriat's contribution to popular music did not begin or end with "Love Is Blue." By the end of the 20th century he was largely forgotten except among chroniclers of pop trivia, but his influence was greater than the size of his reputation would suggest.
Paul Mauriat (More-ee-AH) was born in the southeastern French city of Marseille on March 4, 1925. His father was a postal inspector who played classical piano on the side. When Mauriat was three or four, his father spotted his ability to play tunes straight through on the piano, and, Mauriat told Emmanuel Legrand of Billboard, "had the wisdom not to show me around like one of those brilliant young puppets." Mauriat took lessons from his father, and then, when he was ten, enrolled at the Marseille Conservatory of Music, studying violin as well as piano.
By the time he was 15, Mauriat had earned the school's top prize. At that point family finances interrupted his budding classical career; he had to take a job as a postman. He had also begun to get interested in popular music and in American jazz that had acquired a strong French following. In 1942, with the ranks of French musicians depleted by World War II, Mauriat was offered a job as a band conductor at a salary higher than his father was making. With his father's blessing, he embarked on a musical career.
For many years, Mauriat was based in Marseille and worked behind the scenes in the French music industry. He honed his skills as an arranger, and in the 1950s he toured with and worked as music director for Charles Aznavour and Maurice Chevalier, two of France's top male vocalists. He was particularly closely associated with Aznavour, for whom he eventually made a total of some 135 arrangements. In 1958, with help from bandleader and fellow Marseille native Franck Pourcel, Mauriat moved to Paris. Beginning around that time, he made occasional recordings for small French labels. Depending on the flavor of or intended market for the song he was recording, he used one of a variety of pseudonyms that included Willy Twist, Eduardo Ruo, Nico Papadopoulos, and Richard Audrey.
Among the other young arrangers working in Paris at the time was future American pop giant Quincy Jones, who was studying with French music teacher Nadia Boulanger. Jones encouraged Mauriat's efforts, which by this time had branched out into composition as well as arranging. In 1963 he scored his first major hit as a writer (under the pseudonym Del Roma, and with Pourcel and others as co-writers) with a song called "Chariot," recorded (in French) by British pop star Petula Clark. Retitled "I Will Follow Him," given new English lyrics, and recorded in the United States by teen pop singer Little Peggy March, the song topped Billboard magazine's Hot 100 chart. Like "Love Is Blue," "I Will Follow Him" had a long life as a pop standard, appearing in a spoof choral arrangement in the 1992 film comedy Sister Act.
In 1965 the easy listening genre was selling strongly worldwide, and the recordings of Mauriat's associate Pourcel, many of which resemble Mauriat's own, were hitting a peak of popularity. Mauriat, at the request of the Philips label, formed Le Grand Orchestre de Paul Mauriat in order to compete with Pourcel and began a busy recording schedule that often included three albums a year. No systematic discography of Mauriat's work exists, and he himself eventually lost track of the total number of his album releases, but he estimated in his interview with Legrand that he had recorded more than 1,000 individual songs. Mauriat's albums were released in the United States, but, facing strong competition from those by homegrown orchestra leaders such as Ray Conniff, they notched modest sales totals of around 25,000 copies.
In 1967 Mauriat was given a minor-key song called "L'amour est bleu" ("Love Is Blue"), written by André Popp and Pierre Cour. In a version sung by pop star Vicky Leandros, it had nearly won the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest as an entry from Luxembourg, but was edged out by Pourcel's French entry. "To be honest, I wasn't very fond of the song," Mauriat told Legrand, but since it had been issued by Philips' publishing arm he agreed to cover it. In France, Mauriat's record stalled after sales of 30,000 copies, but Minneapolis disc jockey Alan Mitchell aired the song and asked listeners to comment on it. Flooded with calls, he passed on news of his success to other radio personnel, and on February 10, 1968, the song settled in for a five-week run at the top of the charts. The album containing "Love Is Blue," entitled Blooming Hits, also rose to the number-one spot. "Love Is Blue" was the first instrumental to hit Billboard's top spot since the Tornados' "Telstar" in 1962, and it remains the only French release ever to have accomplished the feat.
Mauriat had a few other small American hits, including "Love in Every Room" and the theme song for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He never duplicated the massive success of that single song, but "Love Is Blue" cemented his international fan base, and as late as 1996 Mauriat estimated his worldwide sales at 800,000 recordings a year. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mauriat applied his arranging skills to the careers of a new generation of French singers, serving for several years as musical director for vocalist Mireille Mathieu. He and his orchestra toured the United States, Mexico, and the Far East.
Japanese (and Taiwanese) audiences had special affection for Mauriat's sentimental but very precise music, and he eventually performed over 1,000 concerts in Japan. Mauriat claimed to be the first Western performer to announce all his songs in Japanese while performing there, and in 1994, after his nearly three-decade association with Philips (and its successors) ended, he signed with a Japanese label, Pony Canyon. Mauriat chose Osaka, Japan, as the site of his final concert, in 1998. His orchestra continued to tour under the conductorship of his protégés. In 2002 a French-language biography of Mauriat, Un vie en bleu (A Life in Blue), was issued by author Serge Elhaik. Mauriat's compositional legacy lived on in the song "Guilty Conscience," modeled by rapper Eminem partly on "I Will Follow Him," but above all in the immortal melody of "Love Is Blue." Mauriat died in Perpignan, France, on November 3, 2006.
Blooming Hits, Philips, 1968.
Mauriat Magic, Philips, 1968.
More Mauriat, Philips, 1968.
Prevailing Airs, Philips, 1968.
Doing My Thing, Philips, 1969.
The Soul of Paul Mauriat, Philips, 1969.
The Christmas Album, Philips, 1970.
Gone Is Love, Philips, 1970.
El Condor Pasa, Philips, 1971.
Classics in the Air, Philips, 1974.
Love Is Blue, Philips, 1987.
A Paul Mauriat Christmas, PSM, 1994.
Love Is Blue: The Best of Paul Mauriat, Polygram International, 2000.
Sayonara Concert, Blue Moon, 2000; reissued, Import, 2003.
Best of Paul Mauriat, Universal, 2003.
For the Record …
Born Paul Mauriat on March 4, 1925, in Marseille, France; died on November 3, 2006, in Perpignan, France. Education: Attended the Marseille Conservatory of Music, Marseille, France.
Worked as conductor, arranger, and bandleader, Marseille, France, 1942–58; moved to Paris, 1958; (with Franck Pourcel and others) wrote "Chariot," recorded in English as "I Will Follow Him," by Little Peggy March, 1963; formed Le Grand Orchestre de Paul Mauriat, signed to Philips label, 1965; recorded "L'amour est bleu" ("Love Is Blue"), 1967; U.S. and world tours, late 1960s–1980s; signed to Pony Canyon label (Japan), 1994; gave farewell concert, Osaka, Japan, 1998; recorded more than 1,000 songs and instrumental pieces.
Awards: First Prize in piano, Marseille Conservatory of Music; Grand Prix du Disque; Midem Trophy (French recording industry awards).
Addresses: Record company—Pony Canyon International, 2-5-10, Toranomon, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, 105-8487.
Billboard, January 20, 1996, p. P3.
Time, March 22, 1968.
"Artist Profile: Paul Mauriat," The Breeze: Easy Listening Music, http://www.radioentertainment.com/artistProfiles/pMauriat.html (November 1, 2006).
"Paul Mauriat," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 1, 2006).
"Paul Mauriat," Space Age Pop Music, http://www.spaceagepop.com/mauriat.htm (November 1, 2006).