|The Venice Article
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"Original thinkers bring change to the world"Morganne: The Divine Diva…
The setting is Giancarlo's, a little bar restaurant nestled on the second floor amidst the galleries and furniture stores that populate La Brea Boulevard just south of Hollywood. Morganne--dressed in a sleek black outfit with her raven hair covered by an item far too exquisite to be called a hat, so we'll have to refer to it as a chapeau--greets me as I enter with a liquid smile and a sultry contralto voice genetically designed to stimulate impure thought. Statuesque, and yet still willowy, it's easy to see by her gracefully measured movements she spent a considerable amount of time at the ballet bar in her formative years. After showing me to my seat, she disappears as more of her fans filter into the room. By the time she has reappeared--resplendent in a red-feathered headdress and equally outrageous red boa bedecked dress that would have done Josephine Baker proud--the room is more than half full and patrons are still trickling in.
She slips behind a microphone stand wrapped in black feathers and like a Jaguar-the automobile, and yet, still somehow the animal-springs into her first tune of the evening, a rendition of the Sinatra classic Autumn Leaves, sung in the original French… What, the song wasn't originally French? Well after you've heard Morganne sing it, or rather purr it, you'll believe it should have been.
More Morganne fans enter the room in the break between songs and the chanteuse welcomes them into her home like members of her extended family. Continuing in the French mode perhaps in homage to her French Canadian roots, Morganne slips into a version of the Edith Piaf anthem, La Vie En Rose. However, not only does she make the song her own with a snazzy, trip-hop jazz version, but she also offers a little metaphysical color therapy history along the way explaining how some Europeans once believed that the color rose was soothing and would generate good thoughts and thus painted their penitentiaries that color, resulting in some very upset prisoners. By the time she'd done with the third number, the room is at capacity, proving that while Morganne fans might not be punctual, they are nevertheless, fiercely loyal and have excellent taste.
So how did this singer/actress/model/ballerina/metaphysical musical minister and toast of the European jet set come to conquer an ever-increasing portion of Los Angeles hipsters? The story is as long and colorful as one of her feathered gowns.
Born Morganne Picard in Canada to a go-go dancing mother of French and Blackfoot Indian ancestry and a musician father of Huron descent, it seemed that she was genetically predisposed to be an entertainer.
"I've always wanted to be a singer but because my dad was in the industry he didn't want me to do that. But I sang "Silent Night" when I was two years old. I was bilingual from the beginning. My mother spoke French but my grandmother was half American and it was her goal to have me sing "Silent Night" in English. So on Christmas Day they put me on top of the piano and there it went. I was approached at 14 for my first record deal and when I moved to Paris at 17 I was signed to Warner Brothers there. What hurt my musical career is that I've always been into metaphysics and included spiritual lyrics, which didn't work in the pop world back then. So I was always fighting with the labels. I concentrate a lot on philosophy because I've always been inquisitive about why we're here on earth."
According to Morganne's legend, she sang "Blue Berlin" at the infamous Parisian nightspot Regine's at the age of 15, was a muse of Salvador Dali at 17, and had conquered both the music and fashion worlds of Paris by 18 where she claims the drag queens taught her how to be a woman. "I grew up all over and attended various schools, and took theatre and mime on top of learning various instruments. I liked to develop the right side of my brain, which allowed me to soak up physics and math. But I was asked to model when I was thirteen and I was immersed in the fashion world where a lot of the makeup artists and designers party at night in drag. So I definitely attribute all my fashion theatrics to the gay community, which is funny because when I was a little girl I was a tomboy and used to come home with my dresses all ripped up. I was a minority going to English school and since I grew fast I sort of became the protector of all the other minorities and would beat up anybody who would insult us. But when I became a model, I couldn't be a tomboy anymore."
So how did the toast of the City of Lights come to stake her claim on the City of Angels?
"I came here for a record deal and arrived here the day of the great earthquake. But after the quake a lot of executives went to New York and my project was one of many that fell through the cracks during that time. But I decided to stay because this was a challenge. I started singing in little clubs and made a name for myself, by myself. In the past it was always managers and producers taking me on and saying 'We're going to make you a star,' and everybody was a cook. Every time that those dreams came crashing down, it left scars but it made me a stronger person. So it feels good, because I did it my way."
People tend to want to call her a cabaret singer, but Morganne's act goes far beyond the constraints of any title.
"I love to sing because it brings me closer to my soul," says Morganne. "When I was very young I listened to vintage rock and roll and jazz with my Dad, but the first record I put owned was Brenda Lee. Like everybody I got into the Beatles, Elvis and David Bowie, but my tastes vary tremendously. And I've always loved global music. I like to take standards from the '50s Hollywood style and shuffle them around and bring a modern twist to it. My music definitely covers from A-Z so I can please all ages and tastes and still reflect my travels. That's why I really respected the music of Peter Gabriel because he was really adamant about bringing the world together. So I don't know whether to call my music global pop or just a fusion of pop, rock, jazz, cabaret, blues and reggae. It's just a reflection of my upbringing as a French kid going to English school with a lot of minorities."
Listening to her sing, it's easy to pick out the influences of Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, Sinatra and the aforementioned Piaf and Baker. But you'll also get touches that run the gamut from Vatsyayana to Albert Einstein-Morganne likes to keep her fans on their toes. Add to that a little belly dancing and you have the ingredients of one very eclectic evening's worth of entertainment. This is probably why it's only natural that she's branched out into film.
"I've appeared in various independent films and short films and it's nice to see when they take off. I'm not really an actress, but when somebody asks me to appear in a movie, I'll do it because it's fun practice."
Morganne recently appeared in Alex Canawati's award-winning silent short film Birth of Babylon as Mabel Normand, the "Queen of Comedy" from the silent era. "I got involved in the project through fans. A lot of young directors come to see me and ask me to be in their films. When it's something interesting that I feel I have adequate talents for, I participate. Now it's gone into phase two and we've been working on Babylon Revisited it for a year. Jennifer Tilly's in it and Maria Conchita Alonso, Ione Skye, Esai Morales and a few other celebrities. It's done in the old fashioned way with an old silent camera."
And what was it about a silent film that attracted someone whose major claim to fame is derived from her voice? "I know," Morganne laughs. "But I thought it was a challenge. I wanted to see if I could portray things physically instead of audibly. And it seems I become a comedian when you can't hear me speak. I made people laugh a lot and that felt good."
Making people feel good seems to be a driving force behind Morganne's art.
"At the end of the day, music shapes the world more than any other art form. How many times do you hear stories about someone who was prevented from harming themselves by the power of a song? So knowing that I didn't lose my integrity lyric-wise makes me feel really good. I get a lot of emails telling me 'Morganne, today was terrible, but I came to see you and I felt better.' So I think I bring a little bit of healing through my music. And it makes people feel good."
And along the climb to success, she's had the opportunity to turn some of that magic on herself. "I believe that every dream comes true. The only component that people don't realize is the time factor. But it's just a matter of patience. One dream that came true for me is when I was 15 I came to LA to do a fashion shoot. I shot a picture right in the middle of the Hollywood Bowl and I was standing there and I said to the universe, 'Please, I would love to sing at the Hollywood Bowl one day.' Well it came true, but years later. And I'll be there again on September 12th opening for the LA Philharmonic."
In that vein, Morganne posits this advice to young artists struggling against the constraints of genre. "If they have their own original style and are very adamant about how they feel about themselves, they need to stick to their guns because eventually, the world will catch up to them. Original thinkers bring change to the world. Monetary success means nothing. The real success is when you're rich in your soul, not in your pocket."
When asked my favorite interview ending question "When people hear your name, what would you like them to think?" Morganne proved once again that original thinkers cannot be corralled and turned it on its ear with a response that she would rather have them feel, than think. "I would like them to feel that that when they left my show, they felt good about themselves," said Morganne. "And while I would like them to feel connected to me, I would rather they felt more connected to their true selves and were happier for it."
Morganne appears 8:00 pm every Sunday at Vermont restaurant in Los Feliz and on the second and last Fridays of the month at Giancarlo's on La Brea. Visit her online at www.morganne.com