There are numerous examples of African-American artists who were, and are, very successful in France. For example, Josephine Baker in the 20s, Richard Wright in the 40s and James Baldwin in the 50s. Yet for some, their accomplishments remain unknown and often uncelebrated in their native country. Such was the case of my sister, Carole Denise Fredericks. I didn’t experience the full impact of Carole’s prominence and popularity in the French music industry until her untimely death in 2001.
Carole had already lived in Paris for 22 years. She was a successful singer, but her contribution to French chanson was lost on me. As the point-person for our family, I was charged with the task of making the arrangements to retrieve Carole’s body from Dakar, Senegal, West Africa where she died, the victim of a massive heart attack two days after her 49th birthday. My four brothers wanted her buried near our parents in our hometown, Springfield, MA. I was coordinating the funeral arrangements from my home in upstate New York. It was a logistical nightmare given the time zones, language barrier, cultural differences, and siblings scattered around the globe. My phone was ringing non-stop. Conflict was in the air.
Carole’s friends and colleagues asked that she be buried in Paris. We heard requests from the French Ministry of Culture that she find her eternal rest in France. “She is ours, notre Carole,” they said. “Her career was in France and here is where she should stay.”
My brothers and I discussed the options and then made the difficult decision to honor these heartfelt requests from France. My husband and I flew to Paris first, and the rest of the family arrived the day before funeral. On June 18, 2001, we gathered for a service in L’Eglise Notre-Dame de Clignancourt. A crowd awaited us as we exited the church. Cameras snapped and strangers pressed cards and flowers into my hands with whispers of “bon courage”. The funeral motorcade, led by Jean-Jacques Goldman and Michael Jones on motorcycles, wound its way through the 18th arrondissement until we arrived at Cimetière de Montmartre. And, there we lay to rest our youngest sister.
Days later, in her apartment, I read through legal documents and did my best to bring order to the place she had purchased and called home for 10 years. At every turn, I uncovered evidence that Carole was a celebrity. In fact, she was music royalty in France. A beloved artist, humanitarian and actress, Carole had been a thoughtful contributor to popular French chanson. Here, in her apartment, waiting to be discovered, was tangible proof of her amazing stardom and unheralded success in France.
In 1979, 27-year old Carol Fredericks left the United States for Paris to pursue a singing career. At the time she did not speak a word of French. Although Carole left her mother country, she never left her roots. Carole was steeped in the fertile music traditions of our parents, striving professionals from the Carolinas and the West Indies.
By the late 1980s, Carole had emerged as a powerful singer who wove the passionate threads of blues, gospel and R&B into a uniquely French tapestry. She began as a background singer. A dazzling array of French stars hired her for session work and concerts: Serge Gainsbourg, Michel Berger, France Gall, Johnny Hallyday, Mylène Farmer, Hubert-Félix Thiéfaine, Patricia Kaas, Mireille Mathieu, Florent Pagny, and Véronique Sanson.
In 1990, Carole joined premiere independent recording artist Jean-Jacques Goldman and lead guitarist Michael Jones to form the phenomenally successful trio, Fredericks Goldman Jones. Their collaboration resulted in two studio and two live albums, and millions of albums sold in the francophone world. For six years, Fredericks Goldman Jones dominated the top spots on the music charts and performed before sold-out audiences throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and Japan. In 1995, Jean-Jacques wrote and produced the album D’EUX for Canadian singer Céline Dion.
Carole Fredericks performing w/Jean-Jacques Coleman, Michael Jones & Celine Dion (1995)
Carole, along with Yvonne Jones and Beckie Bell, returned to the studio to supply background vocals for D’EUX, which became the all-time best-selling French language album ever! The next year, Fredericks Goldman Jones chose to amicably split up to allow each artist time to pursue solo projects. Carole, Jean-Jacques and Michael remained close friends and continued to work on each other’s albums. Carole released two highly successful solo albums: the gospel and blues inspire, SPRINGFIELD (1996), and the all French language rap, soul and R&B disc COULEURS ET PARFUMS (1998).
I left Paris with two suitcases heavy with treasures from Carole’s apartment. Back in the States, I organized a memorial celebration at our local church for friends and family members who couldn’t attend the funeral in Paris. After the service, tables of books, magazines and newspaper articles were displayed at the reception. Photos, gold, platinum and diamond selling albums were hung, and a video playback unit was set up for viewing music videos. A woman tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself. “My name is Nancy Gadbois”, she said. “I stopped by today to offer my condolences to you and your family”. I thanked her and explained that I didn’t speak nor did I read French and that I was at a loss to find someone who could translate the articles.
“I speak French,” Nancy said, “And would be happy to help out. I am a French teacher at the local high school,” she continued, “And I want you to know that I have been using your sister’s music to teach French in my classes for the past 10 years.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. We hugged and exchanged telephone numbers promising to be in touch soon.
By 2003, I had secured the rights from JRG Editions Musicals and Sony Music France to use the lyrics, songs and six music videos for educational purposes. Single-handedly, Nancy had transformed the selected music videos into cohesive lessons with activities and vocabulary lists. An appropriate title for the collection still eluded us. I called Barbara Summers, a lifelong friend, former Ford fashion model and author who had lived in Paris for some time for help. Barbara suggested “Tant Qu’Elle Chante, Elle Vit” (as long as she sings she lives). Nancy and I agreed.
“Tant Qu’elle Chante, Elle Vit” highlighted the use of dynamic performance videos in conjunction with lyrics, workbooks and the Internet to engage students. We added a subtitle: “Apprendre le français grâce à l’héritage de Carole Fredericks (Learn French through the legacy of Carole Fredericks)”, which defined our goal to teach students not only how to speak French, but also how to envision and communicate with a wider world. “Tant Qu’Elle Chante, Elle Vit” was published by CDF Music Legacy in cooperation with the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) and introduced later to educators at the AATF National Convention in Martinique.
Today, our innovative language lessons are used by K-12 French teachers, colleges and university professors across the United States and Canada, including l’Alliance Française de Washington, DC, the American School in Singapore and Korea University. The Carole D. Fredericks Foundation currently publishes the lessons in an Activity Book and has added two new titles: “Couleurs et Parfums” (CD and Activity Book), and “An Interview with Carole Fredericks” (DVD and Transcript). In 2011, “Tant Qu’Elle Chante, Elle Vit” (DVD and Activity Book) was completely revised by master teachers Nancy Gadbois and Anne Jensen.
My life has changed immeasurably. I spend much of the year traveling the country presenting workshops about my late sister and her extraordinary life in France. Paris has become my second home, and each year my husband and I visit for three months at a time. Carole’s legacy continues to touch the hearts of so many people, students are learning French through her music, and I am thrilled to be a part of her journey.
“Tant Qu’Elle Chante, Elle Vit” is a collection of lessons contributed by two master teachers, Nancy Gadbois and Anne Jensen. Each lesson is designed to engage students at their level of interest and keep them interested in every class. The 30-minute DVD contains eight authentic contemporary music videos (À nos actes manqués, Un, deux, trois, Né en 17 à Leidenstadt, Respire, Qu’est-ce qui t’amène, Le prix à payer, Peurs and Personne ne saurait). The accompanying activity book includes lessons and activities that use the video’s subject, storyline and song lyrics to teach language skills such as grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, pronunciation and more. Questions about the video (actual and analytical) promote discussion and expose students to cultural nuances.
CLICK HERE to read more about “Tant Qu’Elle Chante, Elle Vit” and to view excerpts of the music videos.