Angèle Arsenault, OC, OPEI, singer, songwriter, pianist, guitarist, actor, broadcaster (born 1 October 1943 in Abrams Village, PEI; died 25 February 2014 in Saint-Sauveur, QC). Angèle Arsenault was a pioneering Acadian singer-songwriter. She won a Félix Award in 1979 for selling more than 200,000 copies of her album Libre (1977), and was renowned for her catchy, upbeat melodies, playful social commentary and distinctive humour. She was perhaps best known for the songs “Évangéline, Acadian Queen,” “Je veux toute la vivre ma vie,” and the Acadian anthem “Grand-Pré.” An Officer of the Order of Canada and a Member of the Order of Prince Edward Island, she received the Ordre de la Pléiade from the Association of French-Speaking Parliamentarians for her role in promoting French language and culture.
Education and Early Career
The 8th of 14 children in a musical Acadian family, Arsenault won a televised singing contest in Charlottetown when she was 14. In 1963, while earning a BA at the University of Moncton, she made her debut performances in Moncton and Québec City, accompanying herself on guitar and piano. She began collecting and singing traditional Acadian songs, and graduated with a master’s degree in Literature from Université Laval in 1968. She sang in boîtes à chansons, and on radio and TV, and toured Canada several times. In 1973, the impresario Lise Aubut encouraged her to write and sing her own songs in English and French. In 1974, she co-founded the Société de production et de programmation de spectacles with Aubut and the singers Edith Butler and Jacqueline Lemay.
After performing and serving as MC at several folk festivals, including Mariposa, Arsenault released her debut album, Première (1975), followed by her first and only English album, Angèle Arsenault (1976). Her second French album, Libre (1977), yielded two hit singles — “Je veux toute la vivre ma vie” and the humorous “Moi j'mange” — and led to television appearances and performances at Montréal’s Place des Arts. In 1977, she released C'est la recreation with Edith Butler and Jacqueline Lemay. In 1979, Libre was certified double-platinum in Canada for sales of over 200,000 copies and won the Félix Award for Best-Selling LP.
Arsenault’s next album, Y'a une étoile pour vous (1979), was certified gold in Canada for sales of over 50,000 copies. It was followed by Chanter dans le soleil (1980), Paniquez pas pour rien (1982) and the Christmas album XXX (1983). In 1980, she represented Canada at the Spa Festival in Belgium, and then toured Canada and Québec. After a break from performing, Arsenault returned to the concert stage in 1988, and performed in Normandy, Brittany and Poitou in 1990.
After a 10-year hiatus from recording, Arsenault released Bonjour Madame Bolduc (1993), based on the 1992 stage play that toured in Canada and France, and Transparente (1994), which includes "Papa Arthur," the complex, ironic "Évangéline, Acadian Queen" and the Acadian anthem "Grand-Pré." These two releases, especially Transparente, reveal a more natural style than her earlier work, while still retaining her high energy and distinctive humour. A greatest hits compilation, J'ai vécu bien des années, followed in 1995.
Based in Montréal for much of her career, Arsenault returned to PEI in 1996 to care for her mother, and released a children’s album, Amour, in 1999. She moved back to Québec in 2012, and in May 2013, participated in the show The Return of Our Idols at the Capitole de Québec with such artists as Michel Fugain and Jean-Pierre Ferland. She performed many times at the Evangeline Area Acadian Festival in her native Abrams Village, including a show with her family in the summer of 2013. For the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Charlottetown Conference in 2014, she translated the lyrics of the theme song “Forever Strong” (“Île au trésor”) into French and took part in a cross-Canada tour.
Acting and Broadcasting
Arsenault’s sunny disposition and good-natured confidence made her a natural host for radio and television. For TVOntario, she hosted True North (1973–75, with Roy Payne) and the educational program Avec Angèle, which won a Gold Hugo Award at the Chicago Film Festival in 1974. She hosted the TV series Angèle (1980) for Radio-Canada Atlantique, as well as Radiomutuel’s Le Radio-café Provigo (1986–88), Radio-Canada’s Mes noëls en Acadie (1988) and Radio-Canada Moncton’s morning show (1989). She was also a correspondent in Charlottetown for Telefilm Canada's PassepArt.
She acted in Anne-Claire Poirier's Le Temps de l'avant (1975), Gille Carle’s 1983 adaptation of Maria Chapdelaine and the popular TV mini-series Au nom du père et du fils (1993), and appeared on the children’s TV series Alphabus and Sesame Street. She was also featured in television commercials for Crisco shortening in the mid-1980s, which drew on her joie de vivre and humour, and used her song “Moi j’mange” as a jingle.
Writing in Montréal’s La Presse (2 December 1978), Pierre Beaulieu summarized her art in these terms: “Angèle Arsenault may denounce the status of women, demand freedom for everyone, or attack the consumer society, but she always does so jokingly and optimistically, to rhythmic tunes rooted in the folk and the country, and accompanied simply and effectively.” Following her death, PEI Premier Robert Ghiz called her “an incredible talent that left an indelible mark on Prince Edward Island, and especially on the Island’s Acadian and Francophone community.”
See also: Acadian Music; Évangeline; Madame Bolduc.
Best-Selling LP (Libre), Félix Awards (1979)
Honorary Degree, University of Prince Edward Island (1999)
Woman of the Year, Zonta International (2000)
Officer, Order of Canada (2002)
Golden Jubilee Medal, Governor General of Canada (2002)
Member, Order of Prince Edward Island (2005)
Diamond Jubilee Medal, Governor General of Canada (2012)