Barbara, whose hauntingly sad songs and dramatic black-clad figure made her one of France’s most popular singer-composers, died Nov. 24 at the American Hospital in Paris following a sudden infection. She was 67.
She had suffered respiratory problems in recent years.
Barbara, whose real name was Monique Serf, belonged to a French tradition of singers including Leo Ferre, Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel, for whom words mattered as much as melody.
President Jacques Chirac hailed her as “a great lady” and said, “We are already missing her voice.” Prime Minister Lionel Jospin praised her “demanding texts” and “original personality, sensitive to the suffering of others.”
Barbara, long her own piano accompanist, made her debut in cabarets in Brussels and Paris, performing songs by Brel and Brassens. During her four-decade career she also appeared in three films and directed a musical with actor Gerard Depardieu.
Barbara came into her own in the 1960s, singing tragic songs that she wrote herself.
Cutting a dramatic figure in a black dress, she performed at Paris’ leading Olympia and Bobino music halls and won the award for top French song in 1982. She also was awarded France’s highest order, the Legion of Honor.
In recent years she campaigned against AIDS, having condoms distributed at her concerts, visiting AIDS patients in hospitals and staging private performances in prisons. She won the French award for best female singer last February.
Among Barbara’s best-known songs were “Dis, Quand Reviendras-Tu?” (Say, When Will You Come Back), “Il Pleut sur Nantes” (Raining in Nantes), “L’Aigle Noir” (Black Eagle), “Goettingen” and “Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour, C’est Vous” (You Are My Most Beautiful Love Story), which she always dedicated to her audiences.