Celine Dion - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Céline Dion didn’t really need a movie about a titanic ship hitting an iceberg to make her one of the most popular and lucrative adult contemporary stars in the world . . . but Titanic’s overwhelming success didn’t hurt either. As the vocalist for James Horner’s megahit “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic)” from the film’s soundtrack, Dion became as near a ubiquitous worldwide presence as the film itself and has remarkably managed to keep the limelight despite career turbulence. Although she maintains a powerful and unprecedented multi-octave vocal range, Dion’s ballads and over-the-top dance pop ditties have never developed into critical darlings—but none have hindered her success.
Céline Marie Claudette Dion was born on March 30, 1968 in Charlemagne, Quebec, to father Adhemar and mother Therese. She was the youngest of 14 children. Due to their large family and humble occupation as the owners of a local piano bar called Le Vieux Baril, the Dion’s scraped by financially while Céline was growing up. Her parents infused a love of music and the creative arts into all their children. Having developed a powerful vocal range at an early age, Dion took a particular interest in a music career and began singing in Le Vieux Baril at five years old. She wrote and recorded her first song—“Ce N’etait Qu’un Rêve” (“It Was Only A Dream”)—when she was 12, and subsequently sent the rough demo to talent manager René Angélil. The tape went ignored until Dion’s brother called Angélil a few weeks later and begged him to give the demo a listen. He did, and once he realized he had a child prodigy on his hands, Angélil began harboring modest ambitions for Dion.
As a typical Québécois of her generation, Dion spoke very little English, so Angélil set about molding his charge into becoming a star within the Quebec musical niche market. He mortgaged his own house to raise enough money to record Dion’s debut full-length album, La voix du bon Dieu (1981 Super Étoiles), and the holiday release, Céline Dion chante Noël (1981 Super Étoiles). Despite popular belief, Dion recorded a number of French-only albums throughout the ’80s before gaining the international attention she garnered with her English language releases in the early ’90s. Dion’s debuts were regional commercial successes, with La voix du bon Dieu becoming a #1 hit in Quebec, firmly establishing Dion as a rising French-Canadian star. She scored another hit two years later with “D’amour ou d’amitié” (“Of Love or of Friendship”), which also became her first gold record in France. By the time Dion was 18 years old she had become massively successful in the French music market, but she remained relatively unknown throughout most of North America.
In an attempt to become crossover star, Dion took the next 18 months to undergo a complete physical transformation from teen ingénue to adult contemporary diva, which included capping her pointed incisor teeth—a move that had French journalists dubbing her “Canine Dion.” She also took this time to polish up her English, which would play an integral part in making an impact on US audiences.
Dion’s debut English language album, Unison (1990 Epic) was an instant hit in the United States, due to the radio friendly singles, “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” and the Paul Bliss-penned “(If There Was) Any Other Way.” Although she had finally attained buzz-worthy North American status, Dion was still a small fish in a big pond and would work tirelessly to make herself a household name over the next seven years.
The following year Dion’s notoriety within the US increased dramatically when her duet with Peabo Bryson on the title track for Disney’s hit animated film, Beauty and the Beast, shot to the top of the charts. The track took home an Academy Award for Best Song and the pair also won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
Dion’s next full-length release, Céline Dion (1992 Epic), capitalized on her soaring popularity by combining high-energy dance numbers with adult contemporary ballads. The album spawned the Top 10 hit, “If You Asked Me To.” During this period, Dion also continued to keep up appearances in her native Quebec and France by releasing French language albums like Des Mot Qui Sonnet (1991 TriStar) and Dion Chante Plamondon (1992 Epic). In staying with her roots, Dion continues to release Francophone albums in tandem with English language releases to this day with her latest, D’Elles (Epic) appearing in 2007.
Dion made worldwide headlines in 1993 when she publicly admitted to having a secret romantic relationship since 1988 with her manager, Angélil, a man 26 years her senior. That same year, The Colour of My Love (1993 Epic) became another huge international hit for Dion, selling a staggering six million copies in the US The album included the hit singles “The Power of Love” and “When I Fall In Love,” the latter which was featured in the Tom Hanks film, Sleepless In Seattle.
The following year Dion and Angélil were married in a lavish ceremony at the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. The wedding was attended by 250 guests and was broadcast nationally on Canadian television. After releasing the live French language album, Á l’Olympia (1994 Epic), Dion issued the best-selling French album of all time with D’eux (1995 Sony International), released in the United States as The French Album (1995 Epic).
During her three-year absence from releasing English language albums, Dion steered her sound away from high-energy rock oriented songs toward contemporary R&B anthems with grandiose vocal crescendos. In this new style, Falling Into You (1996 Epic) became an international megahit, containing the classic Jim Steinman-penned single, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” and the ballad,” Because You Loved Me.” The album also garnered Grammy Awards for Best Pop Album and the prestigious Album of the Year. Dion subsequently embarked on an international tour in support of Falling Into You, eventually appearing at the opening ceremonies for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where she performed “The Power of the Dream.” By the end of year, Céline Dion was arguably the most renowned and popular solo artist in the world—but her biggest hit was yet to come.
A major contributing factor to the success of the film Titanic stemmed from Céline Dion’s rendition of the ballad, “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic).” The song was featured heavily in the film and also catapulted the soundtrack to multiplatinum success. Forever identified as her signature song, “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic)” dominated mainstream radio for years after its release, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song (for composer James Horner) and multiple Grammy awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.
By the beginning of 1998, “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic)” had cemented Céline Dion as the biggest female solo artist in the world. Riding high on the success, Dion released the international smash hit, Let’s Talk About Love (1997 550 Music). Marketed as a companion piece to Falling Into You, the album mixed high-energy dance numbers with Dion’s quintessential dramatic ballads, featuring big name guest artists like Barbara Streisand, The Bee Gees, and Luciano Pavarotti and production contributions by former Beatles producer, George Martin. Let’s Talk About Love went on to become one of the highest grossing albums of the year—selling over 30 million copies worldwide—and was certified diamond in the United States.
The following April, Dion took part in VH1’s charity concert for the Save the Music campaign, VH1 Divas Live (1998 Sony), which also featured the likes of Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan and Aretha Franklin. The highly successful concert served as a career-defining moment for Dion—she was now one of the most popular female vocalists on the planet.
At the height of her fame, Dion made headlines by announcing a temporary retirement to focus on raising a family and caring for her husband, who had been diagnosed with throat cancer. Angélil’s cancer went into remission a short time later and—after undergoing fertility treatments—the couple welcomed a son into the world, René-Charles Dion Angélil, on January of 2001.
Even though Dion was purposely out of the recording studio during this time, she remained in the spotlight via numerous compilation albums like All The Way: A Decade of Song (1999 550 Music) and the b-sides/rarities comp, The Collector’s Series Vol. 1 (2000 550 Music). After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Dion briefly came out of retirement to sing “God Bless America” for the America: A Tribute to Heroes (2001 Interscope) telethon.
After a three-year hiatus, Dion’s return to work at the dawn of 2002 would be rocky at best. Her comeback album, A New Day Has Come (2002 Epic), flopped despite the fact that it enjoyed critical accolades. Shortly after the album’s release, Dion announced she would forgo touring in favor of a three-year, multi-million dollar contract to perform five nights a week at a brand new theatre at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Just before the live show opened—which was titled A New Day—Dion became the celebrity spokesperson for automotive giant DaimlerChrysler AG. Her appearances for Chrysler automobiles commercial spots also tied into her latest album, One Heart (2003 Sony).
Released in tandem with the opening day of her Las Vegas show, One Heart was a commercial and critical disaster that attempted to remake Dion into an electronic dance queen. Her stage show at Caesar’s Palace, however, proved she was still a very lucrative live draw in spite of her waning popularity in record sales. In an attempt to distance herself from the out of fashion diva persona, Dion made a high-profile return to French language material, releasing 1 filles & 4 types (2003 Epic), which garnered her strongest reviews in years.
The live album, A New Day: Live In Las Vegas (2004 Sony) featured highlights from her popular live shows, while the follow-up Miracle: A Celebration of New Life (2004 Sony) was pegged as a collaborative effort with photographer Anne Geddes. Geddes is a renowned baby photographer, and the package featured a book of her shots accompanied by a quiet adult contemporary lullaby album from Dion. While innovative, both albums were critical and commercial flops, and Dion returned to Las Vegas to complete her three-year contract.
After another three-year hiatus between albums, Dion came back with the respectable French language release, D’Elles (2007 Columbia), and then Taking Chances (Sony). The latter marked her “official” follow-up to the 2002 studio album of some five years earlier, A New Day Has Come. It was released in November of 2007 just as her Vegas stint—which included 600 total shows—was wrapping up.
In order to breathe new life into her flagging recording career, Dion invited fresh cutting-edge luminaries like former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody, R&B singer Ne-Yo, and Christina Aguilera collaborator Linda Perry to work on Taking Chances. Despite its subtle dabbling into the rock and dance genres, the album quickly fell off the charts in the US, although international sales remained relatively strong. Dion returned to the road for the first time since her Vegas obligation, and kicked off the international Taking Chances Tour on February 14, 2008 in South Africa.
Céline Dion has sold over 200 million albums worldwide, putting her on an extremely short list of the most successful solo female musical artists of all time.