Jacques Brel (1929-1979), born in Brussels, was a world-famous chansonnier (cabaret-singer) and a pillar of Belgian music. Singing in French, he basically invented the Belgian chanson and gave it a Flemish atmosphere with his unique accent. He drew his inspiration from Verhaeren, Ensor and Ghelderode.
Jacques Brel has sold over 25 million records worldwide. Brel songs have been recorded by hundreds—if not thousands—of musicians. English versions of his songs have been recorded by a huge variety of artists too, most frequently using the translations by Mort Shuman and Eric Blau. Rod McKuen was one of the first American artists to discover and translate Brel. Canadian Terry Jacks' version of "Seasons in the Sun" became a global pop hit in 1974, topping the charts internationally.
However, his most frequently recorded song is "Ne me quitte pas" ("Don't Leave Me"), usually rather freely translated in English as "If You Go Away". Overall, there have been at least 400 different recorded versions of this standard in at least 22 different languages. Marlene Dietrich recorded "Ne me quitte pas" in German ("Bitte geh' nicht fort"). Mireille Mathieu, Nana Mouskouri, Nina Simone, Natacha Atlas, Karrin Allyson, and Sting recorded "Ne me quitte pas" in French. Paris-based Colombian salsa singer Yuri Buenaventura performed versions of "Ne me quitte pas" in both French and Spanish ("No Me Dejes Mas").
Like all great artists, he expresses the emotions of love, loneliness and death with an intensity unsurpassed by any other chansonnier of his time. He was also a great actor and even had a go at directing films. His best performance was in "De Man van La Mancha" (The Man from La Mancha).
Portraiing every-day life in music requires a special and Brel mastered this skill unlike anyone else.