Annie Cordy, Nini la chance
From clown to sequins, music hall and comedy, to cinema, dance and operetta, and charming entire generations, she always showed that the determination, drive and joy in carrying out one’s profession are the only guarantees to doing it well.
Léonie Juliana Cooreman, Annie Cordy's real name, Belgian singer, revue lead and actress, was born in Laeken, one of the 19 Brussels' municipalities, on 16 June 1928.
At the age of 8, her mother enrolled her in dance classes. She took piano and music theory lessons while pursuing her studies, and participated in charity galas. In between her dance numbers, she sang the hits of the day. It all happened very quickly: talent quests, competitions and soon a debut at the “Bœuf sur le toit” in Brussels. Immediately noticed by the artistic director of the Lido who managed to convince her to leave her home town, Annie Cordy arrived in Paris on 1 May 1950 and was employed as revue lead. In 1951, she met the man who would become her husband and manager, François-Henri Bruneau, called "Bruno” whom she married on 3 February 1958.
In 1952, she broadened her artistic range by teaming up with Bourvil and Georges Guétary in “La route fleurie”. While joining on stage some of the greatest performers, including Louis de Funès and Henri Salvador, she continued to do operettas and simultaneously recorded her first personal tracks: Fleur de papillon, Léon… Her efforts and enthusiasm were quickly crowned with success. She received the Grand Prize of the Académie Charles-Cros, and sang at the engagement party of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco.
The singer was destined for an international career. She was invited to many concert halls in the United States and was offered an opportunity to appear in a musical comedy. But she declined to go to America out of love for her husband, who did not wish to live there. Annie Cordy continued to appear on stage in many operettas between 1960 and 1980: Annie Cordy en Deux Actes et 32 tableaux, Nini la Chance… She recorded hits that would become classics of the French chanson genre: Tata Yoyo, La bonne du curé, Viens prendre un verre, Cho Ka Ka O, …
However, with “La bonne du curé” it was also about cinema. In 1969, Annie Cordy filmed “Le Passager de la pluie” with film director René Clément where she revealed a dramatic talent that would be confirmed in “Le chat” in 1971 alongside Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret. She also appeared in a dramatic role alongside Mort Schuman in "High street" for which she was awarded Best Actress in 1976, and "Un été après l'autre" in 1989.
She also appeared in several popular films such as "Elle court, elle court la banlieue" in 1973, "La Vengeance d'une blonde" in 1994, "Madame Édouard" in 2004, "Disco" in 2008 and "Le crime est notre affaire" in 2008. In total, 19 of these films attracted more than one million visitors to cinemas in France.
The film "Les souvenirs" by John Paul Rouve where Annie Cordy plays the principal role alongside Mathieu Spinosi, Michel Blanc, Chantal Lauby and Audrey Lamy, was released on 14 January 2015. Critics were unanimous in praising the performance of the actress.
On 18 May 2016, for the first time, she walked up the steps of the Cannes Festival for the screening of a film, “Le Cancre”, in which she acted alongside Paul Vecchiali, Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric.
In the 1970s and 1980s, she was one of the most regularly invited guests on television studio floors like those of Carpentier, Danièle Gilbert or Michel Drucker.
On these shows, she sang in duets with most of the stars of the time such as Sacha Distel, Dalida, Petula Clark, Sheila, Jacques Dutronc, Danièle Gilbert, Mireille Mathieu, and even Julio Iglesias and Enrico Macias.
Annie Cordy inspired several comic book characters among which the most well-known one is undoubtedly that of Nicotine in “Asterix in Belgium”.
To mark her 90th birthday, the artist, in period costume, attended the 2018 Ommegang event (historical re-enactment of the entry of Emperor Charles V and his son Philip into Brussels in 1549) on the Grand-Place in Brussels. In the same year, a park in Laeken, her home town, welcomed a fresco in homage to the artist and also bears her name. Her last public appearance was in March 2020, on social networks. She sang her hit "Ça ira mieux demain", with other Belgian artists, in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.
The famous singer passed away on Friday, 4 September 2020 at the age of 92. She will leave a huge void in the hearts of all her compatriots and her many admirers.
Photo : © Nationaal Archief - Jac. de Nijs / Anefo