I am sure few of you who read this blog are aware of Alys Robi .
She was a famous French Canadian chanteuse, who sang in English, French and Spanish. She was the first great French Canadian singer who cross over the barrier of the "two solitudes".
Her short singing career saw her perform in Canada, the United States and in Europe. She was a favourite in the 1940's for the Canadian troops in WWII. Decades later another remarkable child singer came out of Quebec to fame and fortune, Céline Dion
At age 5 Robi delighted her family and friends as a singer. At age, 13, a simple country girl, she left home to find a career as a singer in Montreal, singing in the burlesque houses, brothels and clubs (Montreal being an entertainment mecca of North American in those days. Those of us in English Toronto referred to it as Montreal, the Bad.)
I got interested in Alys Robi only a few years ago, when I learned that the father of a friend of mine has been a great love of Alys Robi, as well as an arranger of her music and help shape her career. He was Lucio Agostini, a famous Canadian musician, orchestra leader, and composer., who became well known in English Canada as the conductor of the CBC Orchestra, composing music for radio and television programs. He was an extraordinary musician in his own right. He told me once that he could read music before he could read words. His father had been a conductor and arranger before him. His son, Elio, my friend, played the drums when I first met him but never went on to do anything in music, He became a newspaper publisher instead.
Lucio Agostini and Alys Robi colaborated on music for her career which brought her to the attention of English Canada. They also had a great love affair, at least for Alys Robi did, Lucio did not at first tell her he was married and when he did he said he would not leave his wife for her which broke her heart. She went to the United States to overcome this great loss in her life and on the verge of being considered for a movie roll, she had a bad car accident. This accident and her lost love left her emotionally in trouble. She was diagnosed as being manic/depressive (bi-polar). Her father had her hospitalized and without her consent had her lobotomized. She spent six years in a mental hospital.
Alys Robi, never regained her singing career. She is one of the few people to survive a lobotomy and function at a high level. More often people that underwent this procedure ended up worse off such as Rosemary Kennedy, President Kennedy's sister, who was a difficult child but after her father had her lobotomized she was quite retarded as well as incontinent so that the family had her institutionalized.
Alys Robi managed to get out of the mental hospital and began singing again. She found acceptance among the gay community in Montreal and sang in their clubs. She also came to be appreciated and remember by veterans groups, for whom she also sang .
Alys Robi did a lot of work on behalf of former mental patients and was awarded for her work such than she became know as Lady Alys Robi. She became,in Quebec,famous for having survived a lobotomy as well as for being a wonderful singer. She wrote two autobiographies:
"Ma Carriere, Ma Vie" and "Un Long Cri dans la Nuit, Cinq Années a l'Asite". There was
also a film made of here life," Ma Vie en Cinémascope"
"Laissez-moi encore chanter" (Let me sing once again)
"Plus je't'aime Je prie pour notre Amour" ( More than loving you I pray for our love)