Friday, June 21, 2013

American-born, French Star, Senegalese Roots: Meet Carole Fredericks

There are only 4 official markers erected for African Americans in Paris: Richard Wright, Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Carole D. Fredericks.  Carole who, you ask?

        “Carole was born once in the United States, the land of her parents, of her childhood, of her preparation, of her musical culture. 
         She was born a second time in France, the land of her artistic recognition, her loves and friends, of her pleasures, of her home. 
        Yet a third time she was born in Senegal, the land of her roots, of her heart, perhaps the place where she felt best."
French singer Jean-Jacques Goldman.

Sister Connie Fredericks-Malone outside Carole's former home in the 18th district.  The plaque was erected in 2012

Carole Fredericks was one of France’s most popular singers in the 1990s as part of the French trio Fredericks Goldman Jones and as a solo artist. Yet she was virtually unknown in the U.S.

How does a part-time backup singer who lands in Paris unable to speak any French nor read music become a solo star as well as the favorite backup and session vocalist en français for icons like Serge Gainsbourg, Johnny Hallyday, Vanessa Paradis, Celine Dion to name a few from a very long list?

Let me tell you a bit of her story. 

Determination Meets Destiny

Carole, from Springfield, Mass, was the youngest sister of blues musician Taj Mahal. She grew up in a musical family that instilled pride in their West Indian and African ancestry. After high school she relocated to San Francisco and lent backup vocals to several of her brother’s albums. Refusing to get by on his name though, she also performed with the Oakland New Generation Gospel choir and organized her own trio to play on weekends.

One of her gigs brought her in contact with the people who would open the door to Paris for her.  

If Josephine Can Do It....

In the mid-70s, Carole found herself singing at Napa Valley's first French restaurant, La Belle Helene, in the upstairs art gallery. The pioneering venue was owned by one Gregory Lyons, a 29 year-old self-taught, award-winning chef. According to friend Rose Calderone who met Carole during this time, Lyons and his partner, French-born Philippe, shared their adoration of Josephine Baker with Carole, told her that France loved Josephine and it would love her as well.

 Their support and strong belief in Carole’s talent turned into a concrete plan of several years to get her to Paris, allegedly thanks in part to the restaurant profits. It became Carole’s dream and vision.

Lyons, who spent three months of each year in Paris, timed Carole’s arrival to coincide with a recent Taj Mahal concert in January 1979. He set her up in an apartment, called his friends and barely three weeks after landing Carole found herself working almost immediately as a backup singer.

            Taj Mahal at the Connecticut exhibition 'The Artistic Evolution of Taj Mahal and Carole Fredericks', 2008.                               Photo: M.Gordon

Putting Her Gifts to the Service of Others

Carole put a lot of energy into learning French and because she had an ear for music, the language came easily to her. It wasn't long before she understood the nuances of the language and could sing as if French were her first language. As a result, she accompanied many of France’s top performers including Serge Gainsbourg, Johnny Hallyday, Vanessa Paradis (ex-wife of Johnny Depp), to name a few.

Then came her biggest break.  She got a call from popular singer Jean-Jacques Goldman.

 "That was a turning point for my life. He had seen me shine in my little corner; he allowed me to take center stage," said Carole.

In 1990, she joined Goldman and Welsh-born Michael Jones to form Fredericks Goldman Jones. Their first album sold over a million copies, and catapulted Carole into stardom.

Photo ©Walking The Spirit Tours

Her discography boasts three solo albums, five with Fredricks Goldman Jones, and an extensive list of credits on compilations and celebrity albums.

She was a generous soul, Carole, and liked nothing more than participating in fundraising tours. The benefactors included Make-A-Wish Foundation, Amnesty International, and a Pan-African children’s hospital in Dakar.

Destiny Steps In One More Time

Carole died on June 7, 2001 while on a fundraising tour in Dakar, Senegal. She had celebrated her 49th birthday just two days before.

“Although Carole was profoundly American, she was [a] symbol of the mix of cultures that she represented in the most beautiful way: by her voice, through the music. She lives still in France, through her songs and in many hearts. Through her, it is the America that we love."
Jean Jacques Goldman

The Carole D. Fredericks Legacy Lives On

Her family spearheads the Carole D. Fredericks Foundation ( ) and CDF Music Legacy ( ) . The foundation promotes and supports the teaching of French culture and language in the U.S.  In fact, Carole’s songs and music videos have been transformed into course material that is used by over 2800 schools and colleges.

Thank you to sister Connie Fredericks-Malone for introducing me to this dynamic singer that I used to watch on French TV in the 90s but knew nothing of the details of her life. And thanks for showing and sharing with me Carole Frederick’s touchstones in Paris. Thank you also Rose Calderone for her Napa Valley recollections.

Connie heading for Montmartre Cemetery

Montmartre Cemetery. Looking for section France 23rd Division - Avenue Carrière.

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