Léo Marjane, a star of the French music hall in the 1930s and ’40s, whose heart-wrenching ballad “Alone Tonight”became a signature song of occupied France, died on Sunday at her home in Barbizon, France. She was 104.
The cause was a heart attack, her son, Philippe de Ladoucette, told Agence France-Presse.
Ms. Marjane’s warm contralto and intimate, impassioned delivery made her one of the great music-hall stars of Paris, a rival to the legendary Mistinguett. A fan of American jazz and a frequent visitor to the United States, she recorded American standards like “Over the Rainbow,”“September in the Rain” and “Begin the Beguine,” a departure for a French singer at the time.
On recordings, she was often backed by two of France’s jazziest orchestras, led by Wal-Berg, the stage name of Voldemar Rosenberg, and Raymond Legrand.
She had her first big hit with the romantic ballad “The Chapel at Moonlight”in 1937. “That record sold like hotcakes,” Ms. Marjane told the radio station France Culture in 2012. She quickly became a fixture at the top music halls.
She recorded nearly 200 songs, but none had the impact of “Alone Tonight,” which expressed the heartache of couples torn apart by the war. “I’m alone tonight with my dreams,” it began. “I’m alone tonight without your love.”
Ms. Marjane continued to perform during the occupation, a sore point with her countrymen after the war. She was brought before a civil court, charged with collaboration for appearing at cabarets frequented by German officers and singing on Radio Paris, a Nazi propaganda station.
“Who did not sing?” she said in 2012. “I’d like to know. Those who say they didn’t have no memory. I had to earn a living.”
She was cleared of all charges, but the damage was done, and her career never really recovered. After a period of self-exile in Britain and Belgium, she returned to France and resumed recording. She updated her repertoire with songs by younger composers like Charles Aznavour, Léo Ferré and Gilbert Bécaud, but her records failed to sell.
Her time past, she retired to the countryside in 1957 to breed horses with the Baron Charles de Ladoucette, her second husband.
“When it’s over, it’s over,” she told France Culture.
She was born Thérèse Maria Léonie Gendebien on Aug. 26, 1912, in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Her father was a diplomat, and she spent her early years in Germany and Austria, studying violin and piano at the Vienna Conservatory.
After winning the Artistica singing contest in Marseille at 15, she began singing comic songs as part of a duo, under the name Rita Karoly. Before long she was appearing on her own at Parisian music halls. Her stage surname combined “Marie” and “Jeanne.” At the insistence of a record producer, she took Léo, a name she hated, from her middle name, Léonie.
Ms. Marjane sang two songs in the 1951 film “Les Deux Gamines” (“The Two Girls”), playing the mother of the two stars, and appeared as a street singer in the Jean Renoir film “Elena and Her Men” (1956), with Ingrid Bergman, Jean Marais and Mel Ferrer.
In 1951, Billboard took notice of her performance at La Vie en Rose, a nightclub on East 54th Street off Park Avenue. “Unknown in this country, the stacked blonde showed a warm husky voice as she went thru a series of French tunes,” its reviewer wrote. “The gal has possibilities and with sufficient publicity could do business here.”
A retrospective CD, “Alone Tonight” was released in France in 2004.