Friday, November 30 and Saturday, December 1, Jerryka Jacques-Gustave was one of two chorus girls with Jacob Desvarieux and other talented musicians at the concert given by the band called “Nanm Kann” which took place at the Memorial ACTe in Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe). On October 31, we had already mentioned her name as a member of the a cappella group “Nipa”. Today, we invite you to get to know this Martinican singer and musician who has a CV to turn green with envy, who was the chief chorister of the French star, Johnny Hallyday and who has already gone around the world more than nine times to share her musical universe that covers many different genres including zouk, jazz, soul, French variety, Afro music, rock, blues etc.
At the age of 53, Jerryka Jacques-Gustave is what we can call “a very full head and a perfect body”.
Jerryka had her first singing experience, at church. “At the age of 11, I came to live in Le Gosier in Guadeloupe, I stayed there a year and a half then I returned to Martinique, my mother and my stepfather being in Guadeloupe, I missed them so, one day, Sylviane, a friend who attended the choir of the cathedral of Fort-de-France invited me to come with her”, she said. Her mother will encourage her to sing. Until the age of 17, the girl led a normal life in Martinique. She left her native island to continue her studies in France and landed in the city of Asnières in the Paris region. As she already practiced athletics (200 m, 800 m, 1,200 m and long jump) at the Golden Stars then at the Club Colonial in Fort-de-France, his Martinican coach encouraged her to join a club in France with the aim of joining, later, the French Athletic Team. “I remember it was perishing and I was not dressed warmly. My mother, my stepfather and my sister went with me at the Colombes stadium, it was the first time we went to this place, we were late and the goal did not like that. I did not understand his reaction, I was in great distress. So, I decided to drop this sport”, Jerryka told.
Experiences in hairdressing, makeup and fashion
As she was a real sportswoman, the girl turned to indoor sports like weight lifting, body building and, for a year, she even did taekwondo. “One day, my mother had come to Asnières. I was at a bus station, I weighed 18 kilos more and I was well-built. She needed information and she told me: “Sir, please, could you etc.?” My own mother had not recognized me, she thought I was a man”, said the young woman. Jerryka Jacques-Gustave decided to give up these sports.
She was seriously interested in hairdressing. She graduated as a hairdresser for ladies. “In Paris, I worked in a black hairdressing salon, I was the most educated and the least paid”, she said. This observation will push the girl to plan a different future. She worked for major cosmetics brands such as L’Oréal, Christian Dior, Fashion Fair or Chanel and she had the opportunity to make up singer Princess Érika for a video and the former Minister Lucette Michaux-Chevry… She was also a model for these great brands and for fashion shows in the 1980s.
In 1984, the music came knocking at her door. “One day, I took the subway in Paris, a man spotted me and said: “you are beautiful, do you sing a little ?” He explained to me that he belonged to a band and made an appointment with me at Lappe Street. The place seemed rather shabby and another backup vocalist was already there. The guitarist told me that he played in another band called “Caribbean New Song” and asked me to join. I accepted and stayed there for two years and we made an album”, told the singer.
The meeting with the Ivorian star, Pedro Wognin
In 1985, during the recording sessions in the studio, the young chorus girl met other artists including singer Édith Lefel. One day, she was mistaken about the hours and arrived at 10:00 am instead of 14:00 pm. To pass the time, she listened to the music tracks on which the sound engineer was working, she thought she was alone and she made laudatory comments because she liked this music. After three hours, a man suddenly appeared in the darkness. “The sound engineer told me:”This is Pedro Wognin, you were listening to his album”. I did not know what to say I answered: “Sir, I like your music”. He wrote my contact details”, said Jerryka.
This meeting will be an important turning point in the artistic life and then the private life of the young Martinican girl. “I went on holiday to the South of France just after these studio sessions, when I came back, my stepfather said to me:”Diablotine” – that was my nickname – a certain Pedro called when you were not there”. On the phone, Pedro Wognin asked me if I could come to a recording studio located at Islettes Street in Paris. I went there, I met a second chorus girl, we made African music, salsa etc.”, she continued.
Internet did not exist yet, the young singer could not google Pedro Wognin to know who she was really working with. In 1986, she set off on tour in Ivory Coast with the African artist and she realized that he was a star in his country: “From the airport to the stadium, people rolled out the red carpet for him”, she said. She was even invited to the Presidential Palace by President Félix Houphouët-Boigny himself but she could not go there…
Singing in smart piano bars in Paris
On the African continent, Jerryka Jacques-Gustave, the Afro-Indo-Vietnamese Métis, felt at home. Perhaps because her mother had told her that his biological father also had roots in Upper Volta, the current Burkina Faso… It must be said that the young woman will meet her natural father in 1994 in Martinique at her grandparents’ home – who had 18 children – so, eleven years after she went to France. “I was trying to find him among all the family members who were there (…) it was very moving”, she recalled. She showed us a photo of her father and herself…
When she came back from Ivory Coast, she had contracts to sing in the South of France: “I had to perform for example in Marseilles, Juan-Les-Pins and Cannes in the piano bar called “Le Prétexte” that belonged to Mrs Guérini. I was accompanied by organist André Thus and I had only three weeks to learn 60 songs”, she recalled. Then, she went back to Paris to also sing in bars on the Champs Elysées like the “Back Street” which belonged to French singer Johnny Hallyday, “Le Garage”, “Le Pavillon Dauphine”, the “George V” palace etc. “When I called my mother to tell her that I sang in bars, she had a violent reaction (…) She told me those were things for prostitutes. To reassure her, I invited her to see where I worked, she calmed down because she saw that these places were smart and correct (…)”, the artist told. Does chance really exist in Jerryka Jacques-Gustave’s career ? The piano bar called “Le Garage”, located at Washington Street in Paris where she sang, was managed by Cathy Rosier who starred in the movie “Le Samouraï” with French actor Alain Delon. She heard her mother was this former actress’s nanny… “Cathy Rosier became my mentor in this profession. She gave me some advise, taught me how to dress myself, she gave me calfskin ankle boots which are 40 years, at that time, sometimes I wear them (…)“, said the Martinican singer.
A degree in musicology at the University of Paris VIII
Four years after they met, Pedro Wognin, who until now was only her friend and her colleague from work, became her life partner. That was when the cappella group “Nipa” was created. “We hummed while doing the cooking: he sang, I answered him by singing (…) Then, Pedro thought that I could go back to Ivory Coast to immerse myself in the local culture and learn to pronounce the languages well”, the artist said.
In spite of the many professional proposals, Jerryka Jacques-Gustave understood that she had to be equipped to build a career in show business. She decided to train herself. Today, the Martinican artist has a very full curriculum vitae. Between 1985 and 1989, she attended classes at the Conservatoire La Schola Cantorum, at the Conservatoire de Clichy and at the École de Jazz et musique actuelles Le CIM. She also practiced six years of modern jazz and African dance. In 1997, she got a degree in musicology at the University of Paris VIII. This same year, her daughter, Noémi, was born in Guadeloupe, she also has artistic talents like her parents because, today, she composes and sings her songs…
In addition to being an artist who sings in several languages (French, Creole, English, Russian, Hebrew, Armenian, Italian, Abouré, Ashanti, Spanish, Arabic etc.), Jerryka Jacques-Gustave is also a musician who plays piano and harmonica.
Her performances were also many and varied, in recent years. About the festivals in Paris, from 1985 to 2007, she participated in the “Festival Banlieue Bleue” with Cheick Tidiane Seck, Mama Kouyate and in the first “Festival du Gospel”. She was in Martinique for the “Festival international de la chanson féminine, Le Chant des Sirènes”, organized by Éric Virgal and Harry Diboula.
Festivals and concerts around the world
In Indonesia, she was the vocal lead of the group called “Black Diamonds” at the “Java Jazz” alongside artists like Marcus Miller, Chaka Khan, Franck McComb. In 1990, 2000 2003, she performed at “Harry’s Bar” at the “Montreux Jazz Festival” in Switzerland, with artists like Nathalie Cole and Steve Cooper. She sang at the gala evening of the “Festival du Cinéma Américain” in Deauville and during the tribute to French director Gérard Oury on the occasion of the Festival du Film Français” in La Baule.
She gave many concerts at the same period. Indeed, in France, she participated in “Voix de Femmes”, a concert for the release of cervical cancer vaccine with Diana Schydlowsky (classical), Stéphy Haik (jazz), Marie Martin (French variety). At “Café Barge”, she gave a series of concerts with her band “Woï, Woï, Woï”, made up of 4 to 12 musicians. She also became the official singer (vocals, instruments, dance performances) at the cabaret “Les Trois Mailletz”. She was at the “Trophée du Cigare” and the “Dis L’heure 2 zouk” showcase with Passi where she performed 2 songs she composed, with Lynnsha, Harry Diboula, Lanata, Jacob Desvarieux, Jocelyne Labylle, Lorenzo… In Stains, in the Paris region, she acted in a musical for the retirees of the town hall. She arrived in Guadeloupe to sing for three months at “Wallys Café”. She set off on tour with Pedro Wognin in Ivory Coast. She went to Lebanon for a tour and sang at the Miss Lebanon gala. She performed during the Louis Vuitton stores opening in France, Monaco, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Switzerland and Japan. She also sang in Sardinia at a concert with Bonnie Tyler… She travelled around Europe and the United States for performances with band leaders such as Dov Amiel, Paul Copo, Samy Goz, André Cyriel etc.
In addition, in 2001 and 2005 in Los Angeles, she participated in the shows of the Fashion Show & Music for African designer Issa Sorogo.
Private performances for men in high places
Her private performances are innumerable. For example, between 1992 and 2009, she sang in Paris at the wedding of Lara and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri; in Arles, she sang with Johnny Hallyday at the wedding of French actor Jean Reno and Zofia, among the distinguished guests there where politicians and famous Andalusian artists; in the South of France, she performed in the first part of Whitney Houston concert, at a Franco-Russian wedding; in Sardinia, she made her voice heard at a Greek-American wedding where Diana Ross and Mick Jagger also performed. In Venezuela, she was with the “Big Band Samy Goz” for a concert on the occasion of the wedding of Ricardo Sisneron’s daughter in the presence of political figures from the United States and Latin America.
She performed in Moscow, Russia, at a great personality’s birthday, in Cameroon at footballer Roger Milla’s birthday, in Sardinia at the birthday of the son of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, in Morocco she was invited to sing for the royal family at a birthday party in the presence of the King.
In Gabon, during New Year’s Eve, she performed for the President of the Republic: she was a showgirl in a musical, the choreography was made by Moïse Rippon. In Dubai, she also sang for New Year’s Eve at the “Burj Al Arab” – ranked “best hotel in the world” with 7 stars – then, for four months, she will sing at the piano bar of the establishment and will be invited to sing for the Cheick Mohamed.
A health educator diploma
From 2006 to 2008, in France, the artist made performances as a soloist on the radio. Indeed, the listeners could hear her voice on France Culture in the programme “Ça me dit l’Après-Midi”, hosted by Frédéric Mitterrand. In 2005, on the television channel, France 2, she was Sylvie Vartan’s chorus girl in programmes like “Thé ou Café” by Catherine Ceylac, “Vivement Dimanche” by Michel Drucker and “Au Rythme du Coeur” with singers like Lara Fabian, Chimène Badi and Liane Foly.
Jerryka Jacques-Gustave was tireless, she also took part in events from 2007 to 2010. In Paris, at the request of the Presidency of the Republic, she sang at the charity event organized for the 7th edition of the “Opération Cartes Blanches”, under the patronage of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Another time, in the French capital, she performed during the world convention of the insurance company, Gan. She sang in Cannes where the Fiat Group presented its new ranges of town and agricultural cars. In Courchevel, she was with David Kaplan for concerts during Russian Orthodox Christmas. She performed in Europe for the inauguration of the sailing boat (5 masts), “Le Club Med”, with Henri Giscard D’Estaing. She also worked in Senegal on the occasion of the annual “Habanos” cigars evening, organized by Salwa Safieddine nicknamed “El Fumador”.
Note that in 2009, Jerryka Jacques-Gustave obtained the diploma of the Faculté Libre de Médecine Naturelle et Ethnomédecine with honours. Today, she is a health educator in naturopathy, herbal medicine and aromatherapy. That’s good! She also needs this healthy life to pursue her intense artistic career.
Artists also like Jerryka Jacques-Gustave’s voice so they want it to be recorded on their CDs and DVDs. Johnny Hallyday was one of those stars.
Johnny Hallyday’s chief chorister
The artist remembered as if it were yesterday this artistic collaboration. “Pedro and I had just separated. One day, he called me and told me that Éric Bamy (Johnny Hallyday’s backup voice who died two years ago) was trying to get in touch with me. I phoned him and he told me that there will be soon an audition of three chorus girls for Johnny Hallyday. I called two other friends from the West Indies-French Guiana: Jessica Plézel and Johanna Ferdinand. For this casting, there were 118 groups of 3 girls who came from all over the world, and they often take one girl per group (…) It was true that several years ago, I had worked at Johnny’s piano bar “Le Back Street”, I had the opportunity to meet him one evening and he just said “hello” (…)”, she said. Three or four days later, Jerryka heard that all three were chosen and they will prepare Johnny Hallyday’s concert at the Stade de France. But, the organization needed a 4th , then a 5th chorus girl so, Angéline Annonier and Sophia Nelson who was from Ghana came to join the trio.
As she was the French star’s chief chorister, the Martinican arranged voices, she recorded audio tapes for the other four choristers and she organized rehearsals in Paris before the big departure for California. One thing was certain: they must know perfectly 51 Johnny Hallyday songs. “At home, I had worked day and night in front of my piano, my mother walked on tiptoe to bring me a plate. But when we arrived in Los Angeles, we were ready to begin the rehearsals in the studio with American musicians. It was glamorous life, each chorister had his room, we drove in convertibles (…)”, continued the singer.
Johnny and Laétitia Hallyday invited to dinner at her mother’s house
In the United States, she met singer Sylvie Vartan (she will work with her, as we already wrote) and her American husband Scotti, David (Johnny and Sylvie’s son), the American star Lionel Richie she liked to talk to because she thought he was very friendly. When they returned to France, Johnny Hallyday, his musicians and singers fill the Stade de France for this memorable concert, “Allumer le Feu” in 1998. Until 2002, Jerryka Jacques-Gustave sang with the French singer during all his concerts in Paris and in the provinces.
One night, Johnny and Laétitia even came to dinner at Jerryka’s mother’s house. “I was telling Éric Bamy that my mother was going to cook some crab dishes and he would be welcome”. Johnny, who was passing through the corridor, heard our conversation and said: “What? Your mum is preparing crabs and you do not invite me?” So, I invited him too. Johnny and Laétitia arrived at around 7:30 pm and left around 1:00 am. There were 17 of us round the table, some members of my family and friends, there was punch with rum of 78°. It was a very nice evening”, she recalled.
Of course, on December 5, 2017, when she heard of French star’s death, the Martinican artist was grieved: “I knew, as everybody, that he was sick but I did not think he was going to leave so quickly. He wanted to be Jean-Philippe Smet at home and Johnny Hallyday on stage, he was very shy but when he felt comfortable, he let himself go, he laughed, we were very close. He said to the journalists about me: “she is my best chorus girl!” He liked the real people. He was a very nice person”, she said.
CD & DVD recorded with different stars
In Jerryka Jacques-Gustave’s discography, there are the live CD and DVD at the Eiffel Tower, the Olympia and the Parc des Sceaux in 2000 and the CD “Allumer le Feu” at the Stade de France in 1998 by Johnny Hallyday. The same year, she also recorded as a chorus girl two songs with Canadian singer Mylène Farmer in Los Angeles. Her voice is also on a CD (2004) and two live DVDs (2004 and 2008) by Sylvie Vartan at the Palais des Congrès as well as on two songs from the CD “Odyssée”, on the CD “Dis l’Heure 2 Zouk” and on the DVD “30 years Chrono” by Passi. Of course, she appeared on “Nipa” albums released in 1993 and 1998. In 1994, she also sang two songs on the album “Paris Groove Up”, released at Carrère Musique, and the single “Here we go again” will be the soundtrack of Diane Kurys’ movie “À la Folie” with actresses Béatrice Dalle and Anne Parillaud. We must not forget her participation in 1987 in the tribute to writer Aimé Césaire in Fort-de-France, Martinique, with Jean-Pierre Coco and the CD when she started in 1985 with the band “Caribbean New Song” produced by Debs Music.
The singer also had the opportunity to act in commercials for example for Orange for French-speaking Africa in 2002 and for Uncle Ben’s in 1995.
Today, Martinican singer and musician, Jerryka Jacques-Gustave, continues to travel the world to continue her brilliant career started more than thirty years ago…