Friday, July 25, 2008

Before "the Marias": Part III

Canada's First Lady of Song

Gisele Marie-Louise Marguerithe LaFleche was born in Winnipeg on January 10, 1927. Her life was ended in a warmer clime - California on September 5, 2003 in a struggle with colon cancer. I'm sure she would want me to remind you all to add a colonoscopy to your medical examinations.

Gisele MacKenzie gave the world music and humour, and Canadians pride in this homegrown success story. "MacKenzie" was her father's middle name and she claimed it so as not to be confused with a striptease artist. She studied voice and violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music and in 1946 had her own radio show on CBC, Meet Gisele. That is also the name of one of two National Film Board Shorts, the other being Songs by Gisele. These often pop up on television without warning and are great fun displaying her versatility with the songs Piper of Dundee, J'ailaisse mon coeur, A Trout No Doubt, Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair and Red Rosy Bush.

1950 saw Gisele move to the states where she appeared with fellow Canuck Percy Faith on radio, and with Bob Crosby on television. She also started a long association with Jack Benny. It was Jack who recommended her for a spot on the phenomenally successful Your Hit Parade (24 years combined on radio and television). Another Canadian vocalist, Ontario born Dorothy Collins was a mainstay on the program as well. Gisele also had her own series which ran for a season on NBC. On stage, she toured in such shows as Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, The King and I, Gypsy, Mame and Hello, Dolly. Gisele left us a lot of memories through recordings, night clubs, television game shows, talk shows and variety shows.

Here is a fan tribute found on YouTube. The vocal is a dandy version of At Sundown, and the visuals give you a nice overview of Gisele's career.

Everybody's favourite:

Now, here you might imagine Caftan Woman going into a rant about where all the good singers have gone...well, they haven't gone anywhere, they're just not on top 40 radio or blared in blue jean boutiques. For instance, give a listen to Gigi MacKenzie. If her grandfather's middle name was good enough for her mother...


  1. Forgive me, but until reading thy blog, the only one of these talented folks with whom I was even remotely familiar was Ms. Durbin. I have enjoyed being educated by you once again, CW. You Canucks sure have a lot of talent!!

  2. guesswho, thank you for the kind words. You never know where you're going to find a new artist (who may be "old"), who speaks to you. I'm so busy discovering the past, that I have to wait for the present to become old so I'll catch up on what's happening now! (What did I say?)

  3. I had no idea she toured in all those classic American musicals! What a wonderful talent.



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