Her voice was famous in the 1970’s and 80’s, with an emergence of new fans due to many YouTube recordings. Yet Danielle Licari, as a person, has remained elusive and private. With her piercing blue eyes, blond hair and standing 1.70 mt. high (5.7 feet), Danielle has fascinated much of Europe, Asia and Latin America. She was an incredibly flexible artist, developing her own unique style and capable of achieving amazing technical vocalise (often called SCAT), trills, glissandos of near perfect pitch and execution. Ms. Licari also developed the use of an impressing whistle tone, very dangerous for a professional singer. However, Danielle Licari was never afraid to take risks, constantly inventing new styles to move away from “the norm.” She created techniques and honed her talented voice into a signature sound—angelic, enchanting, flawless, and perhaps always “ahead of her times” for traditional vocalists. Danielle truly delivered and captivated audiences during live performances and recordings. Yet to this day, she remains a mystery and seems to have disappeared from the music world that adores her.
Danielle Licari was born on November 11, 1943 in Boulogne sur Mer, a town by the seaside in northern France. Her father conducted a symphonic orchestra and she started learning music at age 5. At 12, she became a member of a French national broadcasting station chorus, later returning to study music professionally in her hometown. According to one of her LP (album) back covers, she did not like the rigidity of the classical music world and chose not to pursue an operatic career. Ms. Licari relocated to Paris, exploring different styles of music and finding her true artistic “self.” In Paris she founded a music trio called Les Valentines. One of the most important events in Danielle Licari’s career occurred in 1964 when she dubbed the voice of an actress who had no singing abilities. "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”) featured Catherine Deneuve as Geneviève Emery. Renowned composer Michel Legrand chose Ms. Licari, believing her beautiful, pure voice perfectly fit that of the young and sweet woman Ms. Deneuve portrayed. Some critics believe the major success in this movie came from the “distinguished services” (i.e. musical ability) of Danielle Licari. The film brought Ms. Licari to the world stage for the first time.
Shortly after the release of “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg,” Danielle Licari was invited by an important French producer, Jacques Denjean, to become part of a new musical concept—forming the first music vocal trio of Anglo-European women to perform rhythm and blues (R & B) and other music represented by Afro-American singers. Joined by Jackie Castan and Nadine Doukhan, the new vocal group was named “Les Fizz.” During this time Ms. Licari was also a back-up vocalist for many famous singers, such as Richard Anthony and many other 1960’s-French performers. Her amazing voice is clearly heard on songs like "Le Ciel, le Soleil et la Mer" and "Inventaire 66," among others. While Les Fizz disappeared after recording only two albums, Danielle Licari was soon to discover her musical core, her very essence.
In 1966 Francis Lai emerged as one of the premier composers of movie scores. During this time grand love-themed movies were released—great classics like “Love Story” (starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal). Mr. Lai was so moved by Danielle Licari’s vocal technique that he arranged a number of pieces for her. This composer could well have been instrumental in helping to shape her definitive, very distinctive, musical style.
Two years later (1968) Danielle Licari was invited to participate in the recording of a religious composition involving an unusual instrumentation: solo voice, organ, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The piece was called Sanctus, composed by Marian Marciak. Once again, Ms. Licari stretched her creative talents for a new concept—always trying to move away from the main stream. Bishop Ladislass Rubin (Rome 12/12/1969) stated that the music was “A piece of simplicity and sincerity that would open the heart to prayer under an innovative aspect; the composition, full of faith and youth, will play an important roll in the evolution of sacred music and its renovation.” Sanctus was released in 1970 and a CD re-make edition in 1985. While recording this album Danielle Licari crossed paths with French composer Saint Preux—the man that would define her unique style, a well-defined technique where lyrics are absent and the essence of her music focused entirely on projecting emotions via vocalization or scat. She broke all country boundaries and truly reached audiences all over the world. Danielle Licari later became known as “the absolute Queen of Scat” in Asia.
Saint Preux (19 years old at the time) was working on a composition in the baroque music style (Handel), originally described as “strange music,” calling the piece “Concerto for a Trumpet.” Danielle Licari coincidentally was recording in the same studio building. Saint Preux overheard Ms. Licari’s singing and asked her to perform the music, using her scat technique and exquisite vocal timbre. The result haunted Mr. Preux, so much that he invited her to record the piece renaming it “Concerto pour une Voix” (“Concerto for a Voice”). It became an instant, #1 hit in France (without being a pop or rock-style song, the most popular at that time). This intriguing piece became such a huge worldwide hit that it reached as far east as Japan and west as Brazil. “Concerto pour une Voix” sold over 15 million albums and was the 13th most popular single release in France. (The Beatles’ “Let it Be” was number 12.) “Concerto pour une Voix” remained Danielle Licari’s crowning success throughout her career.
It was in 1971 that Danielle Licari visited Japan for the first time. Many fans were surprised to find the much-admired musician’s name Licari noted when Francis Lai (famous for "Man and Woman" and "Love Story") also visited Japan with arranger/pianist Christian Gaubert the same year. Sources believe the three uniquely-talented artists performed together during that time. In 1972, a second concert tour featuring Ms. Licari took place in Japan, now accompanied by Raymond Lefevre’s magnificent orchestra. During this year Ms. Licari also participated in the third world-songs festival (World Popular Song Festival, Tokyo '72). In this magnificent festival, she sang Christian Gaubert's "Une Vie” (“A Life”). Her enchanting voice and interpretation completely charmed the audience, leaving them mesmerized and deeply impressed by the performance. Though, regrettably, Ms. Licari did not claim the winning prize at this festival, her 1972 tour with Mr. Lefevre’s orchestra tour was so successful that another one occurred in 1974, visiting all Japan’s major cities. A last tour took place in 1975.
During the early 1970’s, Danielle Licari was a contestant in Eurovision, Europe’s premier music contest. She submitted the following songs for this elite competition:
“Le Soleil de l’Amour”
“Les Veux des Amoureaux”
In 1972, Ms. Licari was a finalist in the Eurovision contest (representing France), choosing "Au Cœur d'une Chanson" for her ultimate performance. While she did not win this completion—the French judging committee selected Betty Mars and “Come-Comedie”—it was another important point in her career. "Au Cœur d'une Chanson" perfectly represented Danielle Licari’s effortless, distinct style, as she used a combination of scat and lyrics. She was accompanied on this intriguing piece by a symphonic orchestra, mixed with electric bass and drums.
As noted earlier, Danielle Licari toured Japan in the early ‘70’s. She also was instrumental in bringing the scat boom to this country, a style that influenced a high percentage of Japanese film and anime composers. (“Anime” is the widely-used term for Japanese animation.) The generally sad, romantic scenes found in movies and animes are depicted with a female voice using Danielle Licari’s unusual technique of “vocalise over a texture of strings and other orchestral ensembles” (anime saint-seiya and others). The practice of vocalise, using only the voice and vowel sounds without words, began in the 18th century.
During her career, Danielle Licari recorded several songs for French-animated movies. Major works include Heidi, Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio and Astérix et la Surprise de César (1985).
She performed with the well-known musicians in France, including Charles Aznavour, Richard Clayderman and Paul Mauriat. She traveled around the world to promote her albums and premiere significant musical works. “Concerto pour Helene” debuted in 1978 as a musical drama created in honour of Helene Boule, the wife of Quebec City’s founder, Samuel de Champlain. Composed by Claude Leveille, this magnificent piece featured Danielle Licari, accompanied by The Quebec Symphony Orchestra and the choir of St-Dominique Church, all part of Quebec’s 370th anniversary celebration.
Ms. Licari’s 14 albums have been translated and distributed to Japan, Korea, Israel, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Brazil—quite possibly many other countries. Her distinct, elusive, yet enchanting, style made her known as “la voce de sirena” (voice of a mermaid) in much of Latin America.
Danielle Licari continued her career through most of the 1980’s. Due to Ms. Licari’s notoriety in her native country, she was asked by the French Ministry of Culture to become a teacher in the first French pop music school in Paris, Le Studio des Varieties. She also coached many other French singers at that time. To this day former students remember not only her exquisite talent, but kind and sweet spirit—a professional that helped many aspiring musicians in their early careers.
Ms. Licari recorded two albums in the 80’s and her final one in 1995:
1980: Elisabeth Serenade (Amo Records)
Edited by Sally Magallanes.
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