Boule Noire was the recording and performing pseudonym of Quebec music star George Thurston, an abandoned child who overcame 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 Quebecois Stevie Wonder" by Quebec's Minister of Culture, an accolade that he truly deserved.
George Thurston was abandoned at birth; thought to be the child of a U.S. baseball player, he was adopted and raised in a small town in rural Quebec, where his black skin made him the center of attention -- he later attributed the attention he received to his constant desire to be in the limelight. When his adopted mother became quite ill, he was declared a ward of the state and at age nine taken away from the only family he had ever known, and placed in a series of foster homes. A troubled youth who had already been incarcerated in reform school and well on his way to a criminal career, George Thurston's life was changed by a random act of kindness -- a total stranger gave him an old guitar, and Thurston became a musician.
His prolific recording career began with a cover of a Frankie Lymon song, "Jeune Fille" ("My Girl") with his garage band Les Zinconnus, the modest success of which led to an invitation into another group, 5ième Régiment (25th Regiment), who had a minor Quebec hit covering Shocking Blue's "Venus" in 1969. His talent and drive attracted the attention of Tony Roman, a hyper-aggressive and well-connected record promoter, who gave him the connections he needed to begin working in the studio; over the next five years he worked as a musician and arranger with Michel Pagliaro, Robert Charlebois, Nanette Workman, Claude Dubois, and others, constantly learning and developing his musicianship.
Again coincidence plays a role in Thurston's career -- kidding around during a session in Alabama with musicians from the Muscle Shoals Horns, he started loudly singing a tune in French. No one understood what he was saying, but his vocal style was so impressive and dynamic that it led to his first record as a vocalist. Released under his own name as the disco era was gaining steam, "Aimes Tu la Vie Comme Moi?" became an instant club hit in Quebec, and, during a promotional tour, a television host introduced him as Boule Noire -- literally "Black Ball" -- but also a French slang term for an Afro hair style. The nickname stuck.
His follow-up album, Aimer d'Amour, was a monster hit, selling more than 100,000 copies worldwide. It was the first of several Boule Noire albums to utilize the Muscle Shoals Horns, creating a powerful combination of compelling disco rhythm and funky R&B; it propelled him to superstar status in the disco movement, with considerable sales in the United States and Europe as well as Quebec. He continued to be prolific and worked with other artists as well, writing and recording for Toulouse and Alma Faye Brooks, among others. As the disco era faded, he turned his attention to reggae, recording several very popular albums with a unique French soul flavor. In 1980 he released an English-language album, Premiere, simultaneously with a French LP, Primitif, and toured internationally.
Over the succeeding years Boule Noire also worked as a television personality, produced records, and founded the Zion Yant record label and Unidisc record distribution, the latter of which became a key player in the Canadian music industry. He then showed his virtuosity by playing all the instruments on his 1987 release, Les Tour des Iles, and in 1990 unexpectedly had a massive club hit in Europe when his big debut "Aimes Tu la Vie Comme Moi?" was rediscovered and remixed, selling a staggering 800,000 records worldwide. He next big success came with two different interpretations of the Beatles' "Let It Be" in 1995. He continued to record, while becoming a highly popular weekend radio host in his native Quebec.
In 2006 he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and immediately flew to Las Vegas to marry his longtime partner, Loraine Cordeau. Active until the end of his life, he released a new CD entitled Last Call... Dernier Rappel; as his end approached he also completed work on his autobiography, but was too sick to attend the book launch. Publicly celebrated in his native Quebec to the very end of his life, George Thurston passed away in June 2007 at the age of 55. The love-starved orphan had ended his days cherished by thousands of fans. Prolific to the very end, he had written a song titled "Final Destination," a moving ballad dedicated to his young son about life and love; it was played at his funeral to a church filled to capacity, while hundreds of fans stood and waited patiently outside to honor his life and music. ~ Laurie Mercer