The rich and extraordinary life of Guylaine Guy

Cultural journalist and digital desk manager at the magazine New projectCatherine Genest embarked on the path of a “dramatically forgotten” Quebec singer, Guylaine Guy, to write a great novel, The Princess of Rhythm. Based both on family legend, as she was a distant relative, on extensive research and numerous testimonies, it tells of the extraordinary journey of this woman who was Charles Trenet’s muse and sang with Louis Armstrong in Paris.

To narrate this extraordinary actress, with a turbulent journey, Catherine Genest chose to write a novel rather than a biography. She slipped into Guylaine Guy’s skin, borrowed her voice, talking about her childhood in Montreal, the Red Light cabarets, her success in Paris, New York and around the world. And then the end of life marked by Alzheimer’s disease, in Trouville, France.

“She is a cousin of my grandfather, Henri Chailler – my mother was a Chailler. He died when I was a teenager. In my mother’s family, everyone sings well. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit that talent, but I have a music lover. The story of Guylaine Guy and Colette Bonheur is part of the family legend, on the side of the Chaillers. These are stories that always intrigue me. »

At the base, Catherine thought of writing a book about Montreal singer Colette Bonheur, born Colette Chailler, who died of troubled circumstances.

“Finally, when I met Guylaine Guy, I changed the tone. Guylaine has a pretty rich and pretty incredible life. I never thought I could invent something like that. »

He finds that sometimes reality outweighs fiction. “It’s really the impression I have, with the history and the destiny of Guylaine Guy. It was as if the novel had fitted the silver plate and I just had to find the puzzle pieces. »

The search took a long time. “I started the book in 2016. It took six years. It was a passion project I undertook in my free time and my research has taken me to many really sometimes unusual places. I researched all the way to Brazil, in Portuguese, for Guylaine. They have a national archive that is accessible to everyone. A Portuguese -speaking friend translated it for me. »

He also searched the National Archives of France for Radio and Television, the Broadway History Archives in New York, and the Radio-Canada Archives.

With Louis Armstrong

He also interviewed Guylaine Guy, when he still had things in mind.

“I first met him in 2016. Alzheimer’s disease seriously started to take over him. She still had moments of lucidity and I really went for them. I added interviews of his friends. Jacques Boulanger was very present on the airwaves and he had an elephant memory, so he helped me. Dominique Michel also. »

“It’s been a long job. A lot of people helped me and a lot of people didn’t want to help me. I met all sorts of characters, say, while doing this research! »

What surprised her most, on Guylaine Guy’s journey, was that she learned from Guylaine herself that she sang with Louis Armstrong.

“That was the most shocking to me. So much so that when she told me that, I didn’t believe it at first. Finally, research proved that it wasn’t an invention at all. Guylaine really experienced that. I think that’s the most shocking. and impressed me. He admires her very much. »

  • Catherine Genest worked for the newspaper TO SEE until 2020.
  • He wrote for several magazines in addition to working as a researcher at Ici Première and Unis TV.
  • Since March 2022, he has been the head of the magazine’s digital desk New project.


Catherine Genest

It was so clear, even before I crossed the border. The future, for me, is not in Montreal, even in the rest of the country. Following in the footsteps of my grandparents, I would take the road along the East Coast, from Montreal through Vermont to get to Massachusetts, with the firm intention of rooting my dreams there. If the United States gave my mother a chance before allowing Canadian female actresses to walk the stages, this is definitely where I would find pleasure. The people lived there a generation before another, preceded by an empire of prudes. In major cities, at least. »

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