Claude Léveillée 1932-2011

By Alan Hustak on June 16, 2011

“For me a piano is a woman……the instant I sit at a piano I face love…”

Claude Léveillée, who died June 9th at the age of 78, was one of Quebec`s most alluring singers and a poet in the tradition of Felix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault.   Léveillée worked with and wrote 25 songs for the legendary French singer Edith Piaf and another 30 with Gilles Vigneault. Among his best known melodies are Fréderic, Elle Tournera la Terre, Quelques arpents de neiges, Piano Méchanique. His best known hit, perhaps, was Roger Williams recording of  Leveillee’s Pour les Amants as Only for Lovers.  Léveillée  was also an actor seen in Denys Arcand`s Jésus de Montréal and played the character of Émile Rosseau in the 1990 French-language television series Scoop. But it is a pianist and as a composer that he is best remembered. Léveillée  had been incapacitated since suffering a brain hemorrhage while performing on stage in Ville Emard seven years ago.  “He suffered in solitude, but he was a solitary man, even before his accident,`` said Vigneault, `He had his ideas, his dreams that seemed totally off the wall  to those that listened to him.  But in reality, he lived his dreams on stage.”

Joseph Gerard Adolphe Claude Léveillée was born in Montreal Oct. 16, 1931 and raised on Drolet St.. with an older brother and a younger sister. His parents were musically inclined; his mother taught piano, and his father, a federal civil servant, was a Roman Catholic church cantor. Léveillée was educated at College André-Grasset and studied economics and political science at the Université de Montreal. While still in university he worked as an accordionist and made his professional debut in 1956 with Troupe de Roulette, a street company. He also created the character, Clo-Clo for a Radio-Canada children`s TV show. He and singer Jean Pierre Ferland opened Chez Bo Bo on Crescent ST. in 1959. It was one of Montreal’s first boite a chansons.  Two months after the club opened, Edith Piaf dropped by, heard Leveille at the piano, and hired him on the spot. For the next five years he worked with Piaf, who called him Claude L’endormi. For her he composed such tunes as Les Vieux Pianos, Boulevard du crime and Le Long des quais.   When Piaf died  in 1963, Léveillée returned to Montreal where he opened another club, Le Chat Noir and also teamed up as a piano duo with Andre Gagnon. They performed on the Ed Sullivan show and toured the Soviet Union. “The instant I sit at a piano, I face love,” he once told a reporter, “I can’t read music, I never hear music without being at a piano. For me, a piano is a woman. Show business is something different. I hate show business. But when I am right on the spot, among people, I am in paradise, fighting at the piano to fall in love.”

He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1996 and two years later made a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Quebec. He also received the French Legion d’honneur.

He was married four times. His only son, Pascal, died in 1981. 


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