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BARBARA (Monique Serf; 1930–1997), French singer and songwriter. Daughter of an Alsatian Jew, André Serf, and a Jewess of Moldavian descent, Ester Brodsky, Monique Serf was born in Paris and raised in Marseille and Roanne in a state of relative poverty. During World War II, the family had to flee to Southern France and move several times after being denounced as Jews. Back in Paris after the war, the young girl was able to study music. In 1950 she ran away from home and found shelter in Brussells, then Charleroi, where she began singing in a small cabaret, L'etoile du Sud. With some bohemian friends and artists, she took part in the creation of a cabaret in Charleroi, "Le vent vert," but her piano playing and her voice were somewhat diffident and awkward and the audience was unappreciative. She persisted, and her style became more and more personal, and was soon to find a growing audience in various cabarets and concert halls in Paris and Brussels. She began working with France's major songwriters (Régine, Brassens, Georges Moustaki) and popular composers and arrangers like F. Rauber. Her songs were full of intimate childhood memories and uneasy feelings, and her long black clothing and thin silhouette earned her the nickname of "Dame en Noir" (Black Lady). Her relationship with her fans was passionate and immediate, as exemplified by the song "Ma plus belle histoire d'amour, c'est vous" ("You're My Most Beautiful Love Story"), which she would dedicate to her audiences. Often sad, even under a guise of lightness, sometimes humorous but never trivial, her songs ("Goettingen," "L'aigle noir," "Nantes," "Une petite cantate," "Perlimpimpin") deal with the departure of loved ones, the tragedy of incest, the deep, ambiguous mixture of sadness and joy that characterizes childhood. She was a committed supporter of the left-wing politics often associated in the collective memory with President Francois Mitterrand. Towards the end of her career, she became involved in the struggle against AIDS ("Sid'amour a mort"), and when she died of illness in 1997, the general feeling was that an icon of French song, "une grande dame de la chanson française," had disappeared.


J. Garcin, Barbara, claire de nuit, Paris (1999).

[Dror Franck Sullaper (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.