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Brussels: Jacques Brel lives on
At number 138 avenue du Diamant in Brussels, a plaque says:
Here was born Jacques Brel (1929-1978). He sang of the flat country, the elderly, tenderness and death. He has lived and the poet lives on.
Jacques Romain Georges Brel was born in Schaerbeek, on avenue du Diamant. He didn't live there long as the family moved several times: to Woluwé, Brussels city, Jette and Anderlecht, where the end of the line for the number 33 tram mentioned in his song 'Madeleine' was on square Henri Rey, only 40 metres from his house. The number 33 tram doesn't exist anymore, but you can still see it's siblings at the Brussels tram museum.
Jacques Brel's father, originally from Zandvoorde, worked in the Congo for a long time before marrying Lisette Van Adorp, a dynamic and welcoming woman from Brussels. Jacques Brel had an older brother, Pierre, born in 1923. In Belgium the family owned a cardboard manufacturing company: cartonnerie Vanneste & Brel, on rue Verheyden. It was here that Jacques began his professional life, in the sales department. As with school (Institut Saint-Louis, on rue du Marais, 1941-1946), office work didn't suit him either, he loved the theatre and spent his time writing songs.
Jacques Brel his wife, Miche in a Christian youth group called La Franche Cordée, which would gather at Le Chalet d’Alsace. It was there that Jacques sang 'in public' for the first time in front of his friends. He married Miche (Thérèse Michielsen) in 1950 at the Divin Jésus church on avenue Houba de Strooper. The civil ceremony took place at Laeken town hall on place Boeckstael. The couple lived in Molenbeek Saint-Jean and had three daughters: Chantal (1951-1999), France (1953) and Isabelle (1958).
Following in Brel's footsteps in Brussels
In Brussels, Jacques Brel loved to go to Ancienne Belgique, where he performed for the first time as a supporting act in 1955 and for the last time in 1965. He would give a farewell gala at the Centre for Fine Arts and create his musical opera "L’homme de la Mancha" at Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. As for his 'locals', Jacques liked spending time in La Mort Subite or at la Taverne du Passage, in the Galerie de la Reine.
After an arduous start to his career in Paris, Jacques Brel performed all over the world. He say out his days on the Marquesas Islands, where he lies, since 1978, next to Gauguin, on the island of Hiva Oa, in Atunoa.
In 2011, France Brel and her mother Miche, created the Brel Foundation and the éditions Brel. The Jacques Brel Foundation aims to manage the artist's heritage and make numerous documents available to the public. The offices are located at 11 Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés, in the centre of Brussels. The accounts and documents enrich the audio guided tour of the "J'aime l'accent bruxellois" (I love the Brussels accent) walk.
There are numerous places in Brussels that pay homage to the artist and are named after him, such as the metro station, the Youth hostel, an alley in Wolvendael Park, a school in Jette, an auditorium on the CERIA campus, an avenue in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert... Not forgetting square Henri Rey, the end of the line for the old number 33 tram, where the lyrics to his song "Madeleine" are engraved in stone.