The sincere yet flattering words of a critic are often the greatest tribute that can be paid to a formative artist and creator. In 1968, Claude Gingras, of La Presse, called Raymond Lévesque, “a genuine artist, who has something to say, who has wit, who can find just the right words, and who knows how to write a song.”
That tribute was written in the middle of a career that spanned more than 40 years, which established Lévesque in song, in drama, on radio and television, and on stage. Born in Montreal in 1928, he began writing songs in the 1940s and came to the attention of Fernand Robidoux who had a CKAC radio program in Montreal. Lévesque co-hosted, with Serge Deyglun, the French CBC radio network program called Grand’maman Marie, as well as a variety series in the early 1950s before leaving for Paris. He remained there five years, performing in cabarets in Montmartre and on the Left Bank.
Lévesque came to the attention of French artists who popularized some of his songs. Eddy Constantine, for example, recorded Lévesque’s song, Les Trottoirs, in 1954. Two years later, he wrote Quand Les Hommes Vivront d’Amour, his greatest success, and a piece of music that has been performed by many Quebec artists. Back in la belle province, he sang parodies, was a member of the popular group, Les Bozos, and performed in various clubs, including the “boîte à chansons” called Chez Bozo. He was constantly on the go, staging some 40 revues in the 1960s and 1970s in Val David, north of Montreal.
Lévesque is a familiar face across Quebec. Like other chansonniers, his stage stylings melded song, satire, comedy, and politics. He received the prestigious Félix award in 1980. Over the years, his compositions have evolved: once seen as sentimental, they have become wiser, more humourous, incisive and socially committed. In turn, his personal evolution has fashioned the way for other artists. For example, Pauline Julien and Fernand Robidoux have both dedicated records to him.