(born Nino Agostino Arturo Maria Ferrari
; 15 August 1934 – 13 August 1998) was a French – Italian singer, actor, and jazz musician.From prehistory to jazzThe son of bourgeois parents, an Italian father and a French mother, Nino declared having had a pleasant childhood in a cultivated art-loving family. He spent the first five years of his life in New Caledonia where his father, an engineer, worked in a nickel mine. On holiday in France in 1939, Nino and his mother were unable to leave Europe because of the World War II.In 1947, the family re-united and moved to France. Nino was sent to the best colleges in Paris and earned a degree in ethnology and prehistoric archaeology. As a student, much of his free time was spent on archaeological digs and his first job was at the Musée de l'Homme with André Leroi-Gourhan.Alongside his passion for history, he developed numerous other interests. He became a keen painter, and remained so until his death. Above all, he learned to play several instruments (piano, guitar, clarinet, trombone and trumpet) and composed, wrote lyrics and became a fervent jazz lover.When he finished his studies, his grandmother offered him a trip to New Caledonia, a gift he took advantage of by going round the world on a cargo ship and taking part in archaeological work on the Isle des Pins in Melanesia. On his return to Paris, he tried several jobs, but everything was uninteresting and poorly paid. Already thinking about a career in music, he finally took the plunge and began accompanying jazz musicians, first of all Richard Bennett and the Dixiecats, then Bill Coleman.
From jazz to rhythm and blues
At the beginning of the 1960s, he worked for several years with American singer Nancy Holloway as her guitarist, continuing at the same time to write gospel-inspired songs which received only refusals from most of the record companies. Hearing Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Sam and Dave for the first time was a musical revelation and transformed his writing style.Although already spotted by the Barclay record label, he had to wait until 1963 to record his first release, "Pour oublier qu’on s’est aimé". He was 29, whereas most of the young stars of the time were hardly 20. It was a four-track EP, written in a fairly classical vein, and did not sell well in France. However, one of the tracks, "C'est Irréparable", was a hit in some European countries, in Japan and even in the Middle East, where he did a week of concerts in Beirut. The song was picked up by Italian Mina as "Un anno d'amore", hitting #1 of the Italian singles chart.Having left Barclay for a small label, Bel Air, Nino was still unknown in France. In 1964, he started a gospel group, Reverend Nino and the Jubilees, but it broke up before recording anything worth being released. Nino went on to bring out several solo singles without success.
From "Mirza" to "Je veux être noir"
After so many lean years, the big break came unexpectedly in 1965 when Nino returned to Barclay, who gave him the chance to record his new material. After a few unsuccessful trials, a new artistic director, Richard Bennett, gave Nino free rein to record his compositions as he wanted.And so Nino Ferrer recorded "Mirza", an effective cocktail of rhythm and blues and caustic lyrics. The song was immediately a huge hit. His record company called for more songs in the same vein. His records sold very well and overnight the young singer became an idol. Now the zany singer in vogue, he followed "Mirza" up with "Les Cornichons" and "Oh! Hé! Hein! Bon". Although he was now very popular, his success was founded on material with which he never felt really comfortable. Nevertheless, hit followed hit and he lived his new life as a star at breakneck rhythm. In 1966, he gave 195 live performances and made nearly thirty TV appearances. He soon grew tired of his deliberately blasé and provocative seducer image of which people compared to Jacques Dutronc.In 1966, he released "Le Téléfon", another hit which people are still dancing to years later. However, despite his success, Ferrer, a straightforward, uncomplicated with show business. Little disposed to compromise, he left Paris for Italy where, at the same time, his song "Je veux être noir", was a success of an entirely different kind.
A change of direction
Smothered by his own success, Nino stayed about three years in Italy, from 1967 to 1970. In France, his releases continued to sell well. His lyrics became increasingly iconoclastic, even politicised, while remaining just as sarcastic or even cynical. In 1967, he brought out "Mao et Moa" and "Mon copain Bismarck" and in 1968, "le Roi d’Angleterre", with biting lyrics echoing his irritation with show business and society in general. Around this time, Nino hired a young organist from Cameroon, Manu Dibango, later to become famous as a saxophonist.In Italy, Nino became notorious in 1969 as the presenter of the satirical TV variety show, "Io, Agata e tu" with Nino Taranto and Raffaella Carrà. Then, after a brief love affair with Brigitte Bardot, he decided to return to France in 1970.Determined now to conduct his career as he alone saw fit, he took up residence in the Quercy region in the South West of France and began breeding horses. But music remained his first love and his meeting with Englishman Mickey Finn, a guitarist who had played with T.Rex, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, changed his attitude towards his work. With Finn, Nino launched into rock music and began to write darker, more personal lyrics.