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Michel Rivard

Year of Induction: 2023
Origin: Montréal, Québec

Author, improviser, playwright, comedian, humourist, composer and performer whose career spans five decades, Michel Rivard is a true wordsmith and melodiesmith who has left an indelible mark on the Canadian music scene. His talents as a lyricist, composer and singer, as well as his ability to describe the deepest and most complex emotions of the human experience, make him an indisputable pillar of our culture.

Born in Montréal on September 27, 1951, Joseph François Michel Rivard was introduced to the arts at an early age. Raised in a family environment where creativity was encouraged—his mother adored singing and his father, Robert Rivard, was an accomplished actor, he grew very fond of singing, music and all forms of art. Inspired by folk music and the “chanson québécoise” movement of the ’60s, he began playing guitar and writing his own songs at the age of about 15.

In 1970, he began to showcase his talents as a writer, actor, composer and musician with the absurdist vaudeville troupe La Quenouille bleue at the Université du Québec à Montréal. In 1972, he founded a band called Beau Dommage with his friends Pierre Huet, Pierre Bertrand and Robert Léger. They would later be joined by Marie Michèle Desrosiers, Réal Desrosiers and Michel Hinton and their collective played a key role in the revival of “chanson francophone” in the ’70s. Released in 1974, the band’s first, self-titled album blew away sales records with over 350,000 copies sold! Beau Dommage sang about Montréal’s vibrant youth with gorgeous vocal harmonies over folk rock tunes and all of Québec sang in unison. Their sophomore album, Où est passée la noce? (1975), was also wildly popular with the public.

As a songwriter, Rivard helped define the band’s distinctive sound by amalgamating pop, rock and folk music to create what could be described as “contemporary urban folk.” Thanks to their catchy melodies and heartfelt lyrics, Rivard’s songs have become anthems for generations of Quebecers. Who doesn’t know timeless classics such as La complainte du phoque en Alaska, Chinatown, Le Blues d’la métropole, Ginette, 23 décembre or Motel mon Repos?

Michel Rivard decided to pursue a solo career a year before Beau Dommage ultimately disbanded in 1978. His first album, Méfiez-vous du grand amour (1977), was a continuation of the Beau Dommage style. On De Longueuil à Berlin (1979), he veered towards a more European sound and Le retour de Don Quichotte became a major song of his repertoire that his audience adopted immediately. Sauvage (1984) gave us the touching Schefferville, le dernier train, a piece that sits halfway between a song and a news report about the closing of that mining town. In 1987, his album Un trou dans les nuages marked a major turning point for Rivard with songs such as Je voudrais voir la mer, Libérer le trésor and the title track. Once again, proved Rivard’s extraordinary ability to tackle universal themes such as love, loss and the quest for meaning. Musically, Rivard experimented with different styles and incorporated world music and pop elements in his repertoire. The critics were unanimous—this new direction was a success—and so was the public who bought 150,000 copies of the album.

He would follow up with Le Goût de l’eau (1992), Maudit Bonheur (1998) and Confiance (2006) that gave us two more classics, La lune d’Automne and Maudit Bonheur.

In the spring of 2019, he combined several of his many talents to create the stage play L’origine de mes espèces, a solo show combining music and theatre that was sold out at Théâtre La Licorne in Montréal before he took it on the road all over Québec. Directed by Claude Poissant, the show paints the picture of his quest for identity amid the turmoil of his parents’ fragile union. Then, in January 2023, he was back on stage with the anniversary concert Le Tour du bloc, an imaginary, poetic and smiley walk around the block where he revisits about two dozen of his most beloved songs while telling his own story with the panache that has made his reputation.

Throughout his career, Rivard also wrote songs for other artists, such as Sylvie Tremblay (Je voudrais voir la mer), La Bottine Souriante (Martin de la chasse-galerie), Maxime Le Forestier (Bille de verre), Gerry Boulet (Toujours vivant), Patrick Norman (La Guitare de Jérémie), Isabelle Boulay (Entre Matane et Bâton-Rouge) and several Offenbach songs, including the megahit Seulement qu’une aventure.

In addition to his artistic contribution, Michel Rivard has been a fervent advocate of the French language and culture in Canada. While he has used his songs to express his convictions, he also dabbled in politics directly: in 1980, he was a candidate for the Rhinoceros Party, and during the 2008 federal election campaign, he appeared in the Culture en péril video denouncing the Harper government’s policy of cuts to the arts.

In his 50-year career, this keen observer of the human experience has won numerous awards and honours, including 16 Félix awards, the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Québec in 2005, the Prix Denise-Pelletier for lifetime achievement in 2021, and the title of Compagnon de l’Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec in 2022. Like Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Robert Charlebois and Jean-Pierre Ferland, Michel Rivard has helped bring “la chanson québécoise” into the modern age. His rich musical heritage has become part of our cultural heritage, earning him a place in the Hall of Fame of the country’s great artists. . .

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