Under a lowering sky, pierced by gusts of wind, an old steam train pulls noisily into the station. This station in the middle of nowhere is the final stop of a journey that has seen we Sicilian immigrants travel all the way from the little village of Lercara Friddi to Belgium.
The date is 5 October 1951. I am one and a half years old. My mother Nina is holding me in her arms. My older brother Rosario stands next to us. All three of us are looking out of the open window. My father Peppino, who has worked in a coal mine for three years, is waiting for us on the platform.
The station is Liège-Guillemins, in the dark heart of the coal basin. It was the beginning of a life that even today seems to me to have exceeded my most fanciful dreams.
Left, right and centre, we were surrounded by rows of miners’ terraced houses. We lived in a small house loaned by the mine, opposite the Tilleur colliery, 8 kilometres from Liège.
We would have only known coal and smoke were it not for my father Peppino and the sunshine of his voice. At home, I would listen in amazement when he started singing Neapolitan songs while playing the guitar.
I was 10 when, at the Café Sicilien, where my father’s talent for singing was appreciated and to which he would take me, Peppino would often say: “My son? He sings Sicilian songs better than me!” And without a word of warning he put me on a table to sing “O Sole Mio”. I owe my father everything: he gave me his vocal gifts and I have inherited from him his passion for love songs.
At the age of 12, I bought my first guitar with the money from my savings. When I was 13, I joined my first group, Les Eperviers. At 15, I became a member of the Tigres sauvages and, aged 16, my father enrolled me in the Conservatory of Music despite his meagre resources and eight children!
The same year, I won the Microsillon d’argent, the singing competition of the Festival de Châtelet (Belgium).
This first award gave me the opportunity to record my first record under the name of François Barra. In 1969 my first 45-rpm, “Sylvie”, was released under the name of Frédéric François; I was 19 years old.
Meanwhile, I married Monique, with whom I have confronted all of life’s obstacles, and weathered the periods of calm and storms. I have also experienced the best of life by starting a family, which provides me with a source of stability. Gloria, the eldest of my children, was born in the year of my first major success, “Je n’ai jamais aimé comme je t’aime”. Vincent appeared at the same time as “Je voudrais dormir près de toi”, and Anthony while “Chicago” was number 1 in the charts. Victoria, my youngest, emerged into the world with the release of “Est-ce que tu es seule ce soir?”
Monique and my four children constantly remind me to never completely forget Francesco Barracato, my real name, and to never either mistake myself completely… for Frédéric François!
Yet it is this name that is displayed in lights every two years at the front of the Paris Olympia, the music hall in which all aspiring singers must prove themselves. I was there in March 2000, which hopefully helped me celebrate the milestone of my 50th birthday in style.
I sing about love, but I also need to feel loved. And there is no better measure of my fans’ affection than their applause.
So many concert halls visited! So many kilometres travelled! Millions of records sold! And my fans continue to fill the concert halls. These fans who have remained loyal for forty years have made the Frédéric François of today.
An ordinary man...
The death of my parents, which left me inconsolable, and a number of meetings with essential, unknown and famous figures (Pope Jean Paul II, Queen Fabiola of Belgium…), have also contributed towards making me the person I am today: an ordinary man, but one who has acquired a new way of understanding life.
It seems to me that this internal harmony that I have gradually acquired over the years is shared through my songs and shows. Which is why, whenever I am asked to explain the secret of my success, I am always minded to reply that perhaps this is the direction in which one should look...