“I’m in there,” said the lady in black with the bright red lipstick sitting next to me on the bench in the Square du Temple in Paris’s third arrondissement. She was pointing at the computer on my lap. The lady was Micheline Capuano Blasco, better known by her stage name, Micheline Day. Over the course of many afternoons on the bench near the pond in the little park, she revealed random morsels of her life story to me.
The first thing she told me—after her age (93)—was that she used to sing with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. “We would play all night, then go to the Café Wepler on the Place de Clichy in the morning, still dressed in our evening clothes, to change for a radio program. We really worked, not like people today. We didn’t even have the time to say we were tired.”
Intrigued, I checked out her claim that she was on the Internet, and she was indeed. Here she is on October 26, 1937, with the group Quatour Swing (featuring Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli) singing “Cheri, Est-Ce Que Tu M’Aimes?” and here singing “Y’a du Soleil dans la Boutique.”
“Once a maharajah came and gave us 30,000 francs to play ‘Night and Day.’ Django didn’t like that and didn’t want to play it. He left the money sitting there. When Django didn’t want to do something, he didn’t do it.”
During later chats, she told about being arrested by the French police during the Occupation for singing in English. “The Germans didn’t care,” she says. “They would all come to hear me sing. It was the French! They told me I was not allowed to sing in English. Everyone called me l’Interdite.”
Micheline left occupied France to tour South America with a band that included Roy Ventura and Henri Salvador. She met and married an Argentinian man there, with whom she had three children.
Micheline’s sister was Mireille Hartuch (known as “Mireille”), a well-known songwriter, singer and actress who died in 1996 at the age of 90. “She received four légions d’honneur,” Micheline said proudly. “When Chirac gave her a medal, he sang ‘Le Petit Chemin’ [one of her hits] to her. And she sang ’Couchés dans le Foin” [‘Lying in the Hay,’ another of her hit tunes] with Bing Crosby in a film.”
Born in Puy de Dome, Micheline was raised in Paris by nuns. She vividly remembers them hitting her on the hand with a ruler if she misbehaved.
Among other memories Micheline likes to recall is singing for Wallace Simpson at the Bœuf sur le Toit. “There were two grand pianos, with me in the middle,” she said. She says she knew all the celebrities of her time, including André Malraux and Jean Cocteau.
These days Micheline is still fiercely independent and not a little bit grumpy when people in the park annoy her, as they often do. “That woman over there,” she says, pointing to another regular visitor to the square, “always says pityingly about me, ‘The poor thing’s all alone!’ She doesn’t realize that that’s what I want. She gets on my nerves!”
If you happen to see Micheline in the Square du Temple—she goes there just about every day in fine weather—don’t hesitate to talk to her. She loves to tell stories about her past, and she speaks excellent English. “They used to call me ‘La reine du swing’,” she says. “You’re born with the swing—you can’t be taught that.”
Always ready to sing, with or without accompaniment, Micheline still takes to the stage for the occasional Django Reinhardt tribute concert, and in the park, she often breaks into song. Here she is singing “How High the Moon,” one of her favorites:
Reader Doug Smith writes: “Thank you so much for your piece on Micheline Day and especially the links to her singing with Django Reinhardt.
“I was raised by a father who loved Django’s music and since my mother wouldn’t let him name me Django, I now have a Portuguese Water Dog named Django, who as I listened to Micheline was sitting in the sun at my feet.
“Please tell Ms. Day how much I enjoyed your article and her music!
“You made my day. Week? Thank you.”