Early in 1970, English Canadians fell in love with Ginette Reno when her sassy paean to romantic self-renewal, Beautiful Second Hand Man, raced up the national charts. But French Canadians knew better. Their love affair with the multi-talented chanteuse had been evolving for nearly a decade.
She was born Ginette Raynault on April 28, 1946, and made her professional debut in the noisy aisles of Montréal's bustling St. Lawrence Market. The market was home to her father's butcher shop and little Ginette would dutifully attract customers with lively renditions of her favourite songs. Eager to develop her talents, the enterprising youngster sold newspapers to pay for singing lessons, and soon landed a prized spot on radio station CKVL's Amateur Hour.
Then, in 1960, adolescence caught up with Ginette. Her voice cracked during puberty, dashing hopes for a professional career. Within months, however, she became inspired by Connie Francis's teen lament Where The Boys Are, and vowed to renew her dream.Under the guidance of impresario Jean Simon, who insisted that Raynault be abbreviated to Reno, the singer recorded her debut, self-titled album in 1962. An instant best-seller, the album established the 16-year-old as Québec's answer to such American stars as Lesley Gore, Brenda Lee, and, yes, Connie Francis.
Unlike her American counterparts, however, Reno's fame would not be fleeting. Over the next four decades, she added another five dozen hit albums to her canon, and became as enormous a star in France as she was, and is, in Canada.
Accolades poured in, too. Reno's overcrowded trophy shelf boasts three JUNO awards, four Disc Festival awards, four Metrostar awards, and a record-setting eight Adisq awards, which celebrate the best in francophone recordings and artists. In 1982, she became, at age 36, the youngest artist ever named to the Order of Canada.
In 1991, Reno proved her remarkable dexterity by transferring her skills to film and television. Lauded for her remarkable portrayal of the title role in director Claude Lauzon's Leolo, she has subsequently starred in the top-rated mini-series Million Dollar Babies and Une Voix en Or. Last year, Reno earned a Genie nomination for her brilliantly uninhibited performance in the screen adaptation of Michel Tremblay's socio-political farce C't'a ton tour, Laura Cadieux.
No less an admirer than Prime Minister Jean Chrétien recently saluted Reno as "an authentic artist of great talent." Another life-long fan, fellow Québécoise superstar Céline Dion is even more effusive in her praise. "When I was 10," says Dion, "Ginette Reno was my idol, my inspiration. She is one of the world's greatest singers."