French singer Alice Dona’s string of releases in the 1960s showcased her songwriting talent. But, sadly, she had to wait until the mid-1970s before she found chart success, both as a solo artist and as a composer for other artists.
She was born Alice Donadel on 17 February 1946 a Maisons-Alfort, south east of Paris, to an Italian father and French mother. Her parents, who ran a petrol station, were keen musicians and encouraged her when she showed an interest in music. She took piano lessons and, at 14, began singing with an orchestra. They were less thrilled when she jacked in her studies at the age of 15 to teach in a primary school.
She ended up enrolling at the Petit conservatoire de la chanson de Mireille (where Françoise Hardy also studied), and after failing her baccalaureat in 1962, she threw herself into her music.
She auditioned for the Pathé label that autumn and was offered a recording contract. As part of a promotional series of releases by new artists, Pathé issued a single (rather than the more common four-track EP) in April 1963, featuring Mon train de banlieue and Demain j’ai dix-sept ans, both of which had been written by Alice.
Within a month, an EP was released, featuring the two tracks plus two more of Alice’s compositions, the catchy Les garçons and the jazzy Surboum 63. The EP was issued with two different picture sleeves – one featuring Alice sporting her best Sheila-esque hairdo. Vocally, she sounded similar to Michèle Torr, who was enjoying her first hit at that time. The EP generated some interest and Alice made several television appearances on the back of it.
She issued a second EP shortly afterwards, which led with C’est pas prudent and also included Chante-moi ta chanson, Jack, a version of Rolf Harris’ Tie me kanagroo down, sport (a questionable choice and one of her few cover versions).
In October 1963, Alice went on tour, appearing as one of a number of artists supporting Gene Vincent, and in December released her third EP, featuring her jazz-tinged composition Le noël des copains and the superior Réveille-toi, plus two others.
Just two months later, in February 1964, she issued another EP. Again, it showcased her ability to write songs in a variety of styles. The lead track, Je n’sais pas, sounded like a like slice of American pop, while Ma photo hinted at a more adult side and Une voiture rouge (snap) could have been a vehicle for Peggy Lee. However, even several television appearances couldn’t propel Alice into the charts.
Her next EP, featuring Pardon Chopin, fared no better upon its release in July 1964.
In November that year she played support to both the Beach Boys and Dick Rivers at Paris’ famous Olympia venue, and promoted her latest EP, which featured Un seul mot de toi as its lead track.
In a bid to boost her profile further, she took part in the 1965 Rose d’or song festival, performing alongside artists such as Christine Lebail, Evy and Tiny Yong. Her entry, Un chagrin à oublier, was issued as the lead track of her next of next EP. It featured a backing track that could easily have come direct from London and a rousing vocal – and was, arguably, her best track to date. A trop répéter, from the same EP, has also found popularity amongst fans of femme pop.
Another equally adult EP, featuring Tous les chemins mènent vers toi, was issued in the autumn of that year.
In January 1966 she appeared on television with the group the Célibataires (whose lead singer, Bernard Ricci, she married).
In the spring, she issued her ninth EP, in two different versions. Both contained Les trois couleurs de l’amour, the perky Il suffit d’un rien pour être heureux and the gentle Et déjà, but one version featured Tu viendras comme un voleur, and the other Avec toi, which she performed at the Rose de France contest in Antibes. (She lost to Jacqueline Dulac’s Ceux de Varsovie in the final.)
At the end of the year, she issued one further EP for Pathé, featuring the highly hummable – if lyrically naff – Merci Monsieur Disney, before switching to Décibel in 1967.
She released an EP featuring Le pire des hommes on the new label before scaling back her career as a singer to have a child. Nevertheless, she continued writing for other artists, and enjoyed considerable success in the 1970s for Serge Lama in particular, but also for Sylvie Vartan, Sheila and Claude François, amongst others.
She was tempted back into the studio in the mid-1970s, scoring a hit with La nana 77, and releasing a string of albums between 1976 and 1986.
She also went on to open her own school for the performing arts.
Follow the links to hear other singers’ versions of Alice Dona songs
Les trois couleurs de l’amour
Die Geschwister Jacob: Drei Farben der Liebe
Our pick of the pops
Un chagrin à oublier
Tous les chemins mènent vers toi 1965
Je n'sais pas
A trop répéter
Les trois couleurs de l'amour
La belle epoque: EMI's French girls 1965-1968
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Tu n'y crois pas