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Quebec singer Emmanuëlle left an indelible mark on the province’s popular song catalogue throughout her career, which coincided with rising nationalist sentiment in Quebec and women’s emancipation throughout the West.Jean-Yves Létourneau/The Canadian Press

In her 2010 autobiography, Quebec singer Emmanuëlle wrote about lending $5,000 to her dance instructor, Louise Lapierre, so she could open her own studio in 1970s Montreal.

“Exchange. Mutual aid. Concern for others … Otherwise, is life worth living?” she wrote in the book, titled Emmanuëlle : démesures et passions (Emmanuëlle: Excesses and Passions). “Everyone needs love, tenderness, recognition.”

When a Globe and Mail reporter read Ms. Lapierre this passage decades later, she laughed. “This sounds exactly like the explosive, emotional and exaggerating Emmanuëlle” she had known, she said, skeptical of having borrowed such a large sum at the time ($5,000 in 1974 is equivalent to nearly $32,000 in 2024).

But Ms. Lapierre remembered the singer’s loan and casual generosity, giving her luxury clothing and insisting on letting her stay at her cottage. She had precious memories of working with Emmanuëlle, whom she described as a natural performer and colourful character.

“I think she gave me a lot more than a loan; she gave me momentum as a woman,” Ms. Lapierre said. “I learned as much from her as she learned from me because she was so expressive.”

But Ms. Lapierre, who would later work with a young Celine Dion, was most impressed with Emmanuëlle’s classical-singer-turned-pop-star voice. In a relatively short career coinciding with rising nationalist sentiment in Quebec and women’s emancipation throughout the West, she left an indelible mark on the province’s popular song catalogue.

Emmanuëlle died of Alzheimer’s disease in Saint-Jérôme, Que., on March 3, leaving her two sons, Patrice and Jean-Stéphane. She was 81.

The singer was notable for her “power, mastery, absolute control of the voice in the service of popular song,” La Presse arts columnist Mario Girard said in an interview. “She represented something for an entire generation,” including Mr. Girard, who remembered fondly seeing her perform as a teenager.

In 2003, she also conquered Quebec millennials when her single Et c’est pas fini (1973) became the theme song of the first edition of Star Académie, a popular amateur singing contest and reality TV show. Her voice seemed to have lost nothing of its power when she performed for the occasion.

Emmanuëlle, née Ginette Filion, was born on Oct. 18, 1942, in Montreal, to parents Simonne Leduc and Roger Filion. The youngest of three, she grew up with her parents and sisters, Lyse and Rolande, and two cousins in a five-room apartment in the Rosemont neighbourhood.

As a child, she played piano, guitar and flute, but her father, a teacher, initially refused to let her enroll in Montreal’s prestigious Vincent d’Indy School of Music, according to her autobiography. Mr. Filion would have preferred her to play it safe and become a teacher, too.

“You annoy me, damn security. I hate you, you steal my dreams and destroy me,” Emmanuëlle wrote, and eventually enrolled anyway to study classical singing.

In 1962, she married Jean Massé, a lawyer, with whom she had two sons before she embarked on her musical career.

Once in the early 1970s, she sang on the set of a Radio-Canada variety show, Boubou dans le métro, when Pierre Dubord, a representative of Capitol Records, was in the audience. She signed a record deal that very night.

“I studied classical singing for 10 years,” she wrote in her autobiography. “A career in popular singing would never have occurred to me.”

Mr. Dubord introduced her to songwriter Luc Plamondon, who would write her first hits, including the singles Emmène-moi vers le soleil, with music from François Dompierre, and La chanson de mon pays, in 1972. With the latter, an “anthem dedicated to Quebec,” Emmanuëlle won that year’s Yamaha World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo.

In 1973, Mr. Dompierre introduced Emmanuëlle to a friend, composer and songwriter Stéphane Venne, who had just started his own record label, Sol7 Discs. Unsatisfied with Capitol’s inability to get her songs on the radio, Emmanuëlle cancelled the contract and became Sol7′s first artist. This was the start of the singer’s most productive partnership.

“I could make her sing unsingable things. What I wrote for her was so difficult, but she did it quite naturally,” Mr. Venne said in an interview. “It immediately worked very well. Too well.”

Over the next four years, Emmanuëlle would release three albums, a compilation, and numerous singles – including many instant successes – with Sol7, before fading away from the public eye, almost as quickly as she had gained fame.

Mr. Venne attributed the brevity of her career partly to “overexposure” after the singer participated in long-running TV commercials for La Baie, as the department store Hudson’s Bay Co. is known in Quebec. Despite huge sales of her pop singles, such as Et c’est pas fini and Le monde à l’envers (1973), the public did not connect as much with what Mr. Venne called her best work: more intimate songs such as Ça commence doucement and Touche mes yeux (both from Le monde à l’envers, 1973).

As a person, Mr. Venne remembered Emmanuëlle as “happy, jovial, passionate, angry, exuberant, and what’s more, she was an absolutely extraordinary cook,” who delighted in hosting friends for dinner.

At the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Massé sought a divorce from Emmanuëlle, who met her second husband, Roberto Montina, in Italy. The couple opened a restaurant, Chez Roberto, in Saint-Sauveur, Que., in 1985. Their tumultuous relationship ended in 1987, and the restaurant became Chez Emmanuëlle, where she continued to sing for years, often accompanied by other Quebec artists.

A 1980 Montreal Gazette article mentions that, to open her dance school, Ms. Lapierre borrowed a total of $7,000. Upon rediscovering the clipping, the former instructor said Emmanuëlle “was surely right” after all about the $5,000 figure, the rest coming from dozens of other students, parents and friends – all duly repaid.

The school changed location but remains open on Mont-Royal Avenue, 50 years after the loan.

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