Cultural journalist and head of the digital desk at Nouveau Projet magazine, Catherine Genest embarked on the trail of a “remarkable forgotten” Quebec singer, Guylaine Guy, to write an excellent novel, La princesse durythm. Based both on the family legend, since she is a distant relative, on extensive research and numerous testimonies, it tells the unusual journey of this woman who was the muse of Charles Trenet and who sang with Louis Armstrong. in Paris.

To tell the story of this exceptional artist, with a tumultuous journey, Catherine Genest chose to write a novel rather than a biography. She slips into the skin of Guylaine Guy, borrows her voice, talks about her childhood in Montreal, the Red Light cabarets, her triumph in Paris, New York and all over the world. And then an end of life marked by Alzheimer’s disease, in Trouville, France.

“She was my grandfather’s cousin, Henri Chailler – my mother is a Chailler. He passed away when I was a teenager. In my mother’s family, everyone sings very well. Unfortunately, I did not inherit this talent, but I have a music lover side. The story of Guylaine Guy and Colette Bonheur is part of the family folklore, on the side of the Chaillers. These were stories that had always intrigued me a lot. »

At the base, Catherine thought of writing a book on the Montreal singer Colette Bonheur, born Colette Chailler, who died in troubled circumstances.

“Finally, when I met Guylaine Guy, I changed my tune. Guylaine had a pretty rich and rather incredible life. I don’t think I could have invented something like that. »

She finds that sometimes reality surpasses fiction. “That’s really the impression I have, with the history and destiny of Guylaine Guy. It’s as if a novel was put on a silver platter and I just had to find the pieces of the puzzle. »

The search was long. “I started the book in 2016. It took six years. It’s a passion project that I carried out in my spare time and my research has taken me to a lot of really sometimes quite unusual places. I did research as far as Brazil, in Portuguese, for Guylaine. They have national archives which are accessible to everyone. A friend who speaks Portuguese translated this for me. »

She also searched the National Archives of France for Radio and Television, the Broadway History Archives in New York, and the Radio-Canada Archives.

With Louis Armstrong

She also interviewed Guylaine Guy, when she was still able to remember certain things.

“I first met her in 2016. Alzheimer’s disease was seriously starting to set in on her. She still had moments of lucidity and I really went for them. I supplemented with interviews of his friends. Jacques Boulanger was very present on the airwaves and he has an elephant’s memory, so he helped me. Dominique Michel too. »

“It was a long job. A lot of people helped me and a lot of people didn’t want to help me. I met all kinds of characters, let’s say, while doing this research! »

What surprised her the most, in the course of Guylaine Guy, was to learn from Guylaine herself that she had sung with Louis Armstrong.

“That’s what struck me the most. So much so that when she told me that, I didn’t believe it at first. Finally, research has proven that it was absolutely not an invention. Guylaine really experienced that. I think that’s the thing that surprised and impressed me the most. He had great admiration for her. »

“It was already very defined, even before I crossed the border. The future, for me, was not in Montreal, not even in the rest of the country. Following in the footsteps of my grandfathers, I was going to go down the road along the East Coast, from Montreal via Vermont to get to Massachusetts, with the firm intention of rooting my dreams there. If the United States had given my mother a chance before women artists in Canada were allowed to tread the stages, this is necessarily where I would find satisfaction. We lived there a generation ahead of the others, relieved of the empire of the prudes. In the big cities, at least. »