Jean Claude Pierdet\INA via Getty Images
The French singer-songwriter George Brassens developed a unique style through a turbulent time in his country’s history. Born in 1921 on the French Mediterranean coast, Brassens developed a passion for singing as a youth, influenced by his family’s penchant for the craft. By ninth grade, he showed skill at poetry and songwriting and was encouraged to pursue the form seriously by his teacher. As a teenager, he was a member of a gang and was expelled from school following publicized criminal activities. He relocated to Paris in 1940 as World War II was coming to a head. In Paris, he taught himself how to play piano and worked at a car factory until it was bombed and France was invaded by the Germans. He returned home but then went back to Paris; there he refused to work, believing it would do nothing but benefit the Nazi occupiers. He absorbed poetry and literature at the library until 1943, when he was taken to Germany as a forced laborer. He managed to write a number of poems and songs, some of which were destroyed or altered by his captors, and made friends with like-minded French citizens. He was given a pass from the labor camp but never returned and instead opted to hide in Paris. Influenced by anarchism, Brassens waited out the end of the war by writing poetry and songs as well as going to the library. Following the war, Brassens was encouraged to break into the Paris music scene but found promoters unwilling to present his politically satirical material. From 1952 onward, Brassens rarely left France and recorded fifteen studio albums. Chronic kidney issues resulted in frequent hospital stays but Brassens continued to write and record. His final tour occurred in 1973 and his last performance, at the Bobino Theater, where his first major appearance had occurred, marked his farewell. He died of cancer in 1981.