Suzy Solidor was a woman whose opulent character continues to fascinate and intrigue in equal parts. A novelist’s imagination would have found it challenging to dream her up. She was born in 1900 in Brittany, an illegitimate child, whose ancestry was traced back to Robert Surcouf, a legendary corsair who fought against England on the seas. That genetic heritage would have been sufficient to give impetus to an unusual life but her story does not fade against the background of her ancestor.
Pop history still debates which of her multiple talents was her most significant legacy: her singing, modeling or writing. Yet this gifted woman went above and beyond all to engineer her own creation, chiseling her own mystique by projecting her myriad faces onto the collective ride of France in the first half of the 20th. century.
She immersed herself in the Paris of the 20s., and after brief spells as an antique dealer on the Rue St. Honoré and as a model at Lanvin, she began singing. Van Dongen, visiting her store, listened to her murmuring a melody as she was dusting off her bibelots and remained hypnotized by her voice. As Jean Cocteau put it: “Suzy Solidor has a voice that stems from her sex”. Following Van Dongen’s impression of her, she was soon asked to pose for the bevy of avant-garde painters who populated Paris between the 20s and the 40s.: Raoul Duffy, Marie Laurencin, Francis Picabia, Foujita and Jean Cocteau. In 1933, her lover, Tamara de Lempicka, presented her portrait at “Le Salon des Independents”, an iconic portrait as familiar as the Man Ray set of Suzy’s nudes.
Her singing career then took flight. She opened “La Vie Parisienne” on the Rue St. Anne. Critics and admirers called her “the Madonna of the sailors”. Her gutsy and masculine voice sang about the chagrins of life and love in the ports and the melancholy longings of lesbian passions. A shadow soon crossed her life: as an active performer, going from cabaret to radio, during the German occupation of France, she was considered a collaborator and was banned from singing at the end of the war. She left for the United States but returned to France and reopened a second cabaret “Chez Suzy Solidor” at the Rue Balzac.
Her life ended as it began, closing a perfect circle. She settled in the south of France, away from the limelight of Paris, facing the sea that nurtured the lives of her ancestors and gave her that spirit of adventure and pirate blood that ran through her veins.