Sacha Distel Biography

Alexandre Distel, 29 January 1933, Paris, France, d. 22 July 2004, Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer, France. The scion of a well-heeled showbusiness family, Distel’s mother was the sister of Ray Ventura, who, with his group Les Collégiens, was one of the top band leaders in France during the pre-war period. Distel studied piano at the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud School and was a professional jazz guitarist at the age of 16, often sitting in with distinguished Americans visiting Parisian clubland. Distel was recognized as one of his country’s foremost jazz instrumentalists by the mid-50s. He played with the Martial Solal Trio and recorded with pianist Raymond Le Senechal, vibraphonist Sadi, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. He also gained publicity for his liaisons with Brigitte Bardot and beatnik icon Juliette Gréco, while becoming a businessman with interests in music publishing.

Having been a Frank Sinatra fan for many years, Distel started singing in the late 50s with the encouragement of the arranger Bill Byers. In 1959, his debut single ‘Scoubidou’ made the French hit parade. His marriage to skiing champion Francine Bréaud in 1963, and the birth of their son, Laurent, did not affect the growth of a following that had extended beyond France to North America, where he starred in his own television spectacular. He recorded a French-language version (with cover girl Johanna Shimus) of Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Somethin’ Stupid’ in 1967. Distel’s prolific songwriting talent gave birth to such standards as ‘La Belle Vie’ aka ‘The Good Life’, but his biggest moment on disc remains ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’. This Oscar-winning number from the movie Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, which outsold the B.J. Thomas original in the UK chart, peaked at number 10 in January 1970, making no less than three re-entries throughout that year. An attendant album sold well in Britain and the USA, and set Distel up as a top cabaret draw throughout the world.

The multi-lingual singer hosted many television and radio shows throughout the world, and also appeared in several movies. During the 80s he returned to guitar playing with a series of albums including Ma Premiere Guitare and Ma Guitare And All That Jazz. In 1985 he was involved in a car crash with soap opera star Chantal Nobel, an accident that resulted in the actress becoming a wheelchair-bound recluse. Distel’s popularity in his native country was affected by the scandal, but by the end of the decade he had managed to reassert his star status. In 1993, he co-starred with the television hostess and compère, Rosemarie Ford, on the UK tour of Golden Songs Of The Silver Screen. The same year he set up the 18-piece dance band, Les Collégiens, to record an album of jazz classics by his uncle Ray Ventura. In 1995, Distel and Les Collégiens recorded a set of new songs in the Ventura style. Two years later Distel was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur for his contribution to French music. In October 2000, he joined the London cast of the hit musical Chicago, playing the role of slippery lawyer Billy Flynn. Distel died after a long illness in July 2004. He had successfully battled thyroid and skin cancer in previous decades.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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