Michel Legrand and His Armenian Roots


Michel Legrand and "Jacques Demy invented, with 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,' a new genre: neither a musical comedy, nor an opera-simply, a movie that is just sung." 1

This multitalented and versatile artist is a classical pianist, composer, jazzman, singer, and director. He has won two Academy awards (for the music of "The Thomas Crown Affair," in 1968, and "Yentl," in 1983), and has collaborated with a number of artists, including Clint Eastwood ( in "Breezy"), Agnès Varda ( in Cléo de 5 à 7), Claude Lelouche (in "Partir Revenir"). He has played with any number of the greats of Jazz, and has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1993.

But very few people know that Legrand is part Armenian.

In his own words: "My maternal grandfather was named Sarkis Der Mikaelian. In 1917, he fled the genocide He was a true Armenian: excessive, passionate, generous , the very expression of happiness. I lived in his house in Asnières [, a suburb of Paris], with my mother, for six years. Sometimes, on Sundays, he would drag me to the Armenian church in Jean Goujon street [in Paris proper]. These long ceremonies used to bore me! [Grandfather] owned an oud [and] lots of records of Om Kalsoum [the famous Egyptian singer] whom he adored. [Also,] the band leader Jacques Hélian was my oncle... Eight years ago, I spent a week in Yerevan with my sister. We found some of our kin. It was, on my part a curiosity concerning my roots... Performing with the Yerevan Philharmonic [afforded] a great joy. I had the feeling of rediscovering cousins, if not brothers. It was beautiful, moving." 3

Although unmistakably French, Michel Legrand might owe something to his Armenian inheritance to explain his attraction to music, his curiosity, adaptability, and cosmopolitanism, all of which are rather typical Diasporan qualities.

Those interested by Legrand can watch a recent movie, 4 in which he presents some of his friends (Henri Mancini, Toots Thielmans, Stephane Grappeli, Quincy Jones, and Tiri Te Kanawa), or buy one of his songbooks. 5 We can even provide with his booking agent, in case you want him to perform for you! 6 [Montreux]

1. Murat P, "Cent Ans de Cinéma Français," France (March 1995).
2. Discography: "Besame Mucho" (1957-8): Michel Legrand And His Orchestra, with John Coltrane.
3. Hagopian F, "Michel Legrand" (Nouvelles dArménie, Dec 95, p. 37.
4. Reichenbach F, "Michel Legrand" (1992, color, 48 mins).
5. "The Michel Legrand Songbook" (Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1988).
6. Bureau de Concerts Isoard-Sola, BP 24, 22 rue Ernest Revillon, 77630 BARBIZON. Tel: 60 66 44 88; Fax: 60 66 29 99

Please send us your comments, criticisms and additional information to guerig@erols.com

		         Poster of the 1983 Montreux Jazz Festival. 

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