Biography of Georges Thurston
'BOULE NOIRE' is the recording and performing pseudonym of Quebec music star Georges Thurston, an abandoned child who vanquish his harsh beginnings to become an international recording success. While not widely known to English speaking audiences, he was such a significant artist in his native French language that, upon his death, he was referred to as the “Québécois Stevie Wonder” by that province's Minister of Culture, an accolade that he truly deserves.
Georges Thurston was abandoned at birth; thought to be the child of a black U.S. baseball player and a white French Canadian, he was adopted and raised at Le Lac des Seize Îles in rural Quebec where his colored skin made him the centre of attention. Influenced by James Brown, he later attributed this for his constant desire to be in the showbusiness limelight. When his adopted mother became quite ill, he was declared a ward of the state and taken away from the only family he had ever known. At age 9 started his tour of multiple foster homes. Seeing and experiencing so much abuse and injustices, he became a revolted teenager and was incarcerated in reform schools. Then, Georges Thurston's life was changed by a random act of kindness: a total stranger gave him an old guitar, and Georges Thurston became a musician.
His prolific recording career begins with a cover of a Frankie Lymon song, 'Jeune Fille' (My Girl) with his garage band Les Zinconnus; its modest success led to an invitation into another group, Le 5ième Régiment (25th Regiment), who had a minor Quebec hit covering Shocking Blues' 'Venus' in 1969. His natural talents and contagious drive attracted the attention of Tony Roman, a well-established record promoter who gave him the know-how and connections he needed to begin working in the studio; over the next five years, he collaborated as a musician and arranger for Michel Pagliaro, Robert Charlebois, Nanette Workman, Claude Dubois and other celebrities, constantly developing his musicianship and technical engineering savoir-faire.
A fortunate coincidence plays again a major role in Thurston's life. Kidding around during a session at the ‘FAME’ Studio in Alabama with musicians from the Muscle Shoals horn section, he started singing loudly a tune in French. No one understood the lyrics but his vocal style was so impressive and dynamic that it led to his first recording as a lead singer. Released under his own name as the pop era was gaining steam, 'Aimes-tu la vie comme moi?' became an instant hit in Quebec. Georges’ versatile songwriting abilities were also recognized and sought after by the Muscle Shoals executives. On a prime television show, host Pierre Lalonde introduced him as 'Boule Noire' - literally 'Black Ball', but also a French slang term for an 'Afro' hair style which he proudly displayed. The nickname stuck forever.
His follow-up album, 'Aimer d'amour' was a monster hit, selling rapidly more than 100,000 copies. It was the first of several Boule Noire albums to utilize the Muscle Shoals horn section, creating a powerful combination of compelling disco rhythm and funky R&B; it propelled him to superstar status in the contemporary pop movement with considerable sales in the United States, Europe and Canada. Pioneering the fusion of French & English in the same songs, he was renowned for being extremely prolific thus composing for other artists like Toulouse and Alma Faye Brooks. As the disco era faded, he realized his dream of recording an all-English reggae LP ‘Premiere’ in Jamaica with Bob Marley’s musicians followed by several self-directed albums featuring a distinctive bilingual soul/R & B sound. 'Primitif' was born. Boule Noire started touring internationally.
Lively and humoristic, he was also very much in demand as a radio (CKJL, CKLM, CKVL) and television host besides producing records and running his own Zion Yant label. The fact that he played all the instruments on his 1987 release 'Le Tour Des Îles' showed his extensive multivalence. In 1990, unexpectedly, his debut song 'Aimes-tu la vie comme moi?' was rediscovered and remixed in Europe, becoming a gigantic club hit selling a staggering 800,000 records. In 1995, he experienced sudden success with two different interpretations of the Beatles 'Let It Be'. Meanwhile, he enjoyed the ultimate rewarding satisfaction when the week-end radio show he created and hosted at Rythme FM climbed high in the ratings.
2005: Humble recipient of 4 SOCAN awards, Thurston teams up with manager/publicist Lorraine Cordeau (www.lorrainecordeau.com) to create GTLC Productions and the Soul Sound Studio. In October, they gather 80 singer/musician celebrities at the Montreal Spectrum in a prestigious fund-raising show called ‘KatrinAID’ to help out the Louisiana musicians who lost everything in hurricane Katrina. Broadcasting it on Xmas day, TÉLÉ-QUÉBEC hits sky high ratings with this once in a lifetime colossal event.
In 2006, Thurston is diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. Upon the invitation of his friends Céline Dion and René Angélil, he flies to Las Vegas to marry his long-time partner Lorraine. Active until the end, he coproduced with her his final CD entitled 'Last Call...dernier rappel'. In parallel, he completed with Lambert his biography book but was too sick to attend the book launch. Very much in demand in the media because of his terminal illness, altruistic Georges uses all the air time and interviews to explain the symptoms of this curable cancer if caught early instead of promoting his products. Despite 21 chemo treatments, he passed away in June 2007, at the age of 55. Celebrated for four decades, the love-starved orphan ended his days cherished by millions of fans.
Prolific to the very end, he wrote a song titled 'Final Destination', a moving ballad dedicated to his son Maxime about life and love; it was played at his funeral held at the Saint-Jérôme Cathedral filled to capacity, while 4,000 fans and reporters stood and waited respectfully outside to honor his life and achievements. Moreover, his legendary kindness.
Source: Laurie Mercer, All Music Guide Artistdirect.com
Updated by Lorraine Cordeau, August 2021
The City of St-Jérôme (Québec), where Georges grew up and started his artistic career, immortalizes him with an outstanding quadruple tribute:
- A live show performed by his friends and former partners Charles Biddle Jr., Sylvie Desgroseillers, Patsy Gallant, Véronick Lemay, Stéphane Ménard, Luck Mervil, Richard Tate, Toulouse (Judi Richards, Laurie Niedzielsky, Mary Lou Gauthier) and Jim Zeller. More than 10,000 fans of all ages enthusiastically cheered this unique opportunity to express their
last farewell to their idol at the Place des Festivités;
- An exhibit of the artist’s memorabilia (photos, guitar, precious belongings, stage outfits,
press book, etc.) at the city’s Tourism Center;
- A street formerly named Rue de la Gare now baptized Georges-Thurston;
- A magnificent mural painted by Rouks One on the CGEP building.
The announcement by SODEC of the production of a long-awaited feature movie about his inspiring, challenging life elates everyone.
Producers Marie-Claude Poulin (MCP Productions), Luce and Lucie Rozon (Les Agents Doubles) along with screenwriter Nicole Bélanger are in command, taking it off the ground.
Fasten your seatbelts!
Music School in Dorval
L'École secondaire Dorval-Jean-XXIII perpetually honours Georges Thurston by naming one musical classroom after him, along with a memorial plaque, in its new state-of-the-art facility. This tribute harmoniously reverberates Georges’ lifelong dedication to rising generations and his legendary contribution to Québec culture.
“Special thanks to Sylvain Caron!”, Coordinator and Teacher, Faculty of Music