In the 1960s American singer Nancy Holloway moved to France, where she cut a slew of soulful records. Although there were plenty of homegrown yé-yé girls singing French versions of US hits, Nancy represented the real thing – an American singing American songs in a highly American accent.
She was born Nancy Brown in Cleveland, Ohio, in the US, on 11 December 1932. She was one of ten children.
At the age of 16, she married a man by the name of Holloway. Though the marriage would last just three months, his name would stick with her for the rest of her life.
After the breakdown of the relationship, she left Cleveland for New York, where she took a number of low-paid jobs, such as waiting tables and washing cars.
Her first public appearance came as part of the Beige Beauties ballet troupe. She remained with the dancers for a year and a half before quitting New York to travel to Paris in 1954.
One night in jazz nightspot the Mars Club, she was dared to sing on the stage – and her performance was so well received by the audience that she was offered a regular singing slot at the club.
She ended up touring France, Germany, the UK and Libya before returning to Paris – and the Mars Club – in 1957.
Within two years she began performing at the then prestigious Moulin Rouge, but 1961 proved the turning point in her career. That year she made her debut television appearance and issued Hey pony on the PBM label. It was the first of a clutch of EPs she released that year. Others included Fich’ le camp Jack (a version of Ray Charles’s Hit the road Jack), Dum dum (Brenda Lee’s song of the same name) and Viens danser le twist (Chubby Checker’s Let’s twist again). Many of these early recordings were compiled on an LP issued two years later on the Ricordi label.
1961 also saw Nancy open her own nightclub, Chez Nancy Holloway, and appear in her first film, Ballade pour un voyou, playing the part of a model.
When her recording career went quiet, she switched to the Decca label in 1963, where she would
remain for the rest of the decade. The move marked the beginning of a couple of years of prolific – and, arguably, her best – recording.
Dis-lui que je ne suis pas là became the lead track of her first release for the label, but it was the follow up – Dernier baiser, Nancy’s take on Brian Hyland’s Sealed with a kiss – that proved more popular.
A third EP, issued later in 1963, T’en va pas comme ça, a version of Dionne Warwick’s Don’t make me over, was even more successful, and she performed the song and its predecessor on the Paris Olympia stage to great acclaim.
Her appeal lay not only in the strength of her vocals but also in the fact that here was an American singer singing American songs specifically for the French market. That she sang with a distinctly American accent only added to her charm.
She maintained her profile with an appearance in the film Le bluffeur in French cinemas that year.
The sultry Désappointée, a version of Claudine Clark’s Disappointed, became the lead track of her final EP of the year. The disc is also notable for fan favourite Prends tes clés.
1964 kicked off with the release of Dix bonnes raisons, her take on Donna Loren’s Ten good reasons why I won’t sleep tonight. The EP also included two Beatles covers, Elle t’aime (She loves you) and Je veux prendre ta main (I want to hold your hand), plus her version of Motown group The Contours’ Do you love me, which became Est-ce que tu m’aimes. The popularity of the latter song in particular led to the Motown songbook being raided a second time for Nancy’s follow-up EP, Bye bye, a version of Mary Wells’s US chart topper My guy.
An album, simply entitled Nancy Holloway, was released too. It included tracks from some her recent EPs and some new material, including a terrific takes on Marvin Gaye’s You’re a wonderful one (Le plus bel amour) and Tammi Terrell’s pre-Motown If I would marry you (Je suis yéyé).
Au cinéma became the lead track of her final EP of 1964. Appropriately enough, she appeared in cinemas that year in the film Cherchez l’idole, which also starred Sylvie Vartan and Sophie, and in which Nancy performed the Charles Aznavour composition Prends garde à toi.
1965 saw her star in the film Le gentleman de Cocody, and the English-sung title song became her first release of the year.
At this point, her acting work began to take over from her recording career. Although she continued to tour, she managed to cut only the occasional 45.
Ciao ciao baby so long became her second and final EP of the year, though the release is now better known for the moody Rêver.
Just one EP was issued in 1966, Personne ne m’attend, before Nancy returned to film screens in the role of Brigitte in 1967’s Jeu de massacre.
Marking her move away from pop, her final album of the decade, issued in 1969, was a collection largely of American show tunes. Hello Dolly became the title track, and it also included Mame, As long as he needs me and Big spender.
The death of her baby daughter that year saw her return to the US, though appeared in the role of Mélanie in the snappily titled film Le cri du cormoran le soir au-dessus des jonques in 1970.
The rest of the decade was a quiet period for the singer-cum-actress, and it wasn’t until the early 1980s that she began performing concerts again.
She later became an active supporter of AIDS charities, and until 2008 she continued to perform occasionally.
She died in Paris on 28 August 2019.
With thanks to the official Nancy Holloway website for additional information.
Our pick of the pops
Le plus bel amour
T’en va pas comme ça
Prends tes clés
Fich' le camp Jack
Je suis yéyé
Est-ce que tu m'aimes
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Nancy Holloway online
Follow the links to hear other singers’ versions of Nancy Holloway songs
Prends tes clés
T’en va pas comme ça
Louise Cordet: Don’t make me over