The SOCAN Classic Bleu et blanc was written by the first Franco-Ontarian to record a professional studio album, Northern Ontario’s Robert Paquette. The singer-songwriter was driving home to play a concert in Sudbury in 1976 from his base in Montreal, where he was pursuing a solo career, when the song came to him in its entirety. Paquette was so struck by it that he stopped at a pay phone to call home, saying “I’ve just come up with a really nice song.”
That December, back in Montreal, Paquette laid down the track for Bleu et blanc at Studio Six along with other songs for the album “Prends celui qui passe,” which was released in Canada and Europe by Kébec-Disc. The up-tempo Bleu et blanc was released as a 45-rpm single with Baba nam (from the same album) on the flip side, and sheet music was issued too. To Paquette’s surprise, two Montreal radio stations, CKOI and CHOM, both gave it air time. “Because the song was unusually long, at over six minutes, I didn’t think it would get commercial radio play, but the reaction of the public was really good. Listeners began asking CKOI and CHOM to air it, and it took off.” Bleu et blanc was on its way to becoming a classic of the French-Canadian music scene.
As with the very best poetry and song lyrics, Bleu et blanc deals with passions and emotional symbols. The song begins with the singer retelling his chance encounter with an old down-and-out hobo, in which he asks if the old man has given up hope. The old man’s wise reply proves to be a valuable life lesson that both surprises and influences the singer. “In Ontario, I used to meet down-and-out fellows who would ask for a dime to get a sandwich or a coffee. Then in Montreal I met one who asked for a whole dollar, but he was honest about it; he wanted money for wine,” said Paquette. “The song is about contrasts, truth, and passions, and taking into your own hands the things that matter to you.”
Paquette intended the colourful kites in the chorus (“Bleu et blanc, vert et rouge/Sont les couleurs des cerfs-volants”, or in English “Blue and white, green and red, are the colours of kites”) to represent flags: red for the Canadian flag, blue and white for Quebec’s fleur-de-lis, and green and white for a new flag that had recently been proposed for Franco-Ontarians; white represents purity and red represents passion. The song’s kite imagery also suggests freedom, freedom to go with the wind, freedom from practical necessities. A more direct reference is the one to Quebec politics in the line “Tout le monde parle de révolution” (“Everyone’s talking revolution”) -- in November 1976, just before the song was recorded, the Parti Québécois was elected to power in Quebec, and many French-Canadians in Paquette’s Northern Ontario home were watching.
Paquette made the enigmatic, philosophical Bleu et blanc a staple of his concert tours for the next decade in Canada, the USA and Europe. Notably, his performance at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1979 (with an outstanding jazz sax addition) was captured on the live album “Robert Paquette: Europe.” Bleu et blanc is also featured on Paquette’s 1995 compilation album “Moi j'viens du nord” (DisQuébec, CD).
Other recordings on which Bleu et blanc can be heard include “30è Anniversaire - Festival International De La Chanson De Granby,” New Brunswick group Garoche’s “Jour après jour,” and Winnipeg Folklorama’s “Celebrate!” in a cover by Rendez-Vous. The sheet music appears in the song collection “Chante la vie” as well as in Paquette’s own songbook published in 1980.
Bleu et blanc was named a SOCAN Classic in 2001, having received over 100,000 radio plays. It was also included in a list of 150 popular songs compiled by “Le Journal de Montreal” for Canada’s 150th anniversary.
Singer-songwriter-producer Robert Paquette was born in 1949 in Sudbury, Ontario. Influenced by English pop music and by the songs of Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault and Claude Leveillée, Paquette sang and played guitar with the bands Les Chat-Uteurs and Marketville Riot in Northern Ontario before moving to Montreal and embarking on a solo career. From the mid-1980s he wrote music for theatre and did television work. His song Jamaica is another SOCAN Classic, and Radio-Canada ranked him No. 1 on its list of significant Franco-Ontarian musicians.