Yves Montand was born 13 October 1921 in Italy. His parents gave him the name Ivo Livi. His father, a broom maker held strong communist beliefs and when Ivo was 2 years old, the family left Italy for Marseilles France to avoid the fascist regime and Ivo took French citizenship at the age of 9. He worked as a hairdresser in his sister’s barber shop in Marseilles and also on the docks. Alongside the numerous jobs he had, he pursued a career as an entertainer and started out as a music-hall singer in Marseilles and then moved to Paris to seek fame and fortune.
In Paris he was spotted by Edith Piaf, who was by then a big star. He became her lover and she mentored him, helping him to define and refine his style and become more “Parisian”. She arranged for him to appear in films with her – he turned out to be a fine actor and he stayed with her for two years (1944-1946) before she dumped him.
Charismatic, handsome and with a great sense of humour, Yves Montand was certainly a ladies man but in 1951 he married the actress Simone Signoret and despite his affairs (including with Marilyn Monroe) they remained married until her death in 1985. He once said “I think a man can have two, maybe three affairs, while he is married. But three is the absolute maximum. After that, you’re cheating”.
His name change to Yves Montand, far more French sounding, came from his childhood – his Italian mother used to yell at him “Ivo, monta” -”come upstairs, Ivo” in the Tuscan dialect of his birthplace when it was time to go home.
His songs became classics, often singing about Paris and with a wonderful crooner style. He was an excellent actor and starred in many films.
He died on 9 November 1991 and is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Radio Paris Chanson has chosen a favourite recording to illustrate the style of Yves Montand – “La Bicyclette – a classic”. To hear more great French music – click on the Paris Chanson button on the right hand side.