And for this I am so grateful

I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, shortly after my parents emigrated from Brittany, France. I was raised on the Red River, in the small community of St. Norbert. Four months after my father experienced his first-ever salmon fishing trip to Vancouver Island, in August of 1971, he sold his 7 beauty salons in Winnipeg and we headed west to British Columbia, settling in the Island community of Courtenay.  I was 12 years old and  I worked in my father’s Courtenay beauty salon after school and on weekends, sweeping the floor, answering the phone and when I got ‘old’ enough, I was promoted to doing shampoos.  Even though I was never formally trained, I learned a lot about the business (which would serve me years later in finding a job in Perth, Australia). I enjoyed working at the salon and it also got me out of doing the Saturday house-cleaning chores.

Eventually, my parents sold the hairdressing business and followed my father’s true passion: cooking. They opened a small restaurant in Courtenay (The Gourmet) and I soon learned another trade: the hospitality industry (which again would serve me years later). And for this, I am so grateful.

My parents were lovers of adventure and travel. They had me late in life, which meant that before I was even born, they had already traveled the world with my older brother and sister. Our house was adorned with artifacts from Tahiti, Australia, Sri Lanka… they had seen it all and now were ‘settled’.  Even though I loved books and maps, I couldn’t see myself appreciating the world through pictures, stories or someone else’s experiences.

At the age of 16, I ran away from home, with my best friend from school whose parents were also avid travelers.  We didn’t run away FROM anything, we ran TO something. I needed to see for myself the faraway lands of which my parents often spoke. So with just enough tip money saved up, we bought a ticket to New Zealand, with the notion to work our way around the world. We didn’t tell anyone because being 16 years old meant we were minors and could be legally stopped by our parents. My parents were terribly upset when they found the ‘good bye’ note on the kitchen table on that February morning, but cooler heads prevailed when they realized it really was their own fault that their daughter had wanderlust in her blood. I eventually had their blessing. And for this I am so grateful.

Borneo 1977

After traveling around the world for three years, through more than 40 countries, working in everything from hotels, restaurants, beauty salons to turkey slaughterhouses and vineyards…I returned home. During my absence, my family had sold the Gourmet and purchased an old resort on the ocean in Oyster Bay just north of Courtenay, and built The Gourmet by the Sea, (which would one day win the International El Bar award, listing it as one of the best 54 restaurants in the world). I worked with my family for 4 years, sinking my teeth in the hospitality industry, thinking this was the career path I would follow. Never did I think I would pursue a career on the stage. The closest I ever got to performing in public was sitting at the piano in the restaurant, singing for the last few patrons in the late evening.

I moved to Vancouver in September of 1982 to pursue my interest in the hotel and restaurant business, soon becoming assistant manager at Mulvaney’s on Granville Island. In the spring of 1983, my brother came to visit me at Mulvaney’s. His casual remark “My sister can sing”, to the manager, changed my life. The manager happened to know the theatre director Ray Michal of City Stage on Thurlow Street. Ray had been looking for a bilingual singer who could revive the role of Edith Piaf for his then struggling theatre. I was introduced, I sang a few Piaf songs (having been brought up on her music) and next thing I knew, I was taking a one-month leave of absence from the restaurant to enter a whole new realm. I was realistic, thinking this performing business would be fun to experience but it would be short-lived and I would soon be returning to a ‘real’ job. After all, I am an idealist without illusions.

Life throws unexpected curve balls sometimes. The show was a hit and it was held over time and time again. That one-month venture turned into a one-year stint of interpreting the songs of ‘the little sparrow’ night after night. After the City Stage run of ‘Piaf, Her Songs Her Loves’, the musicians of the show and I decided to branch out musically, writing our own tunes and setting up tours. The theatre bug had bitten me and I wasn’t about to slap it dead just yet. So off I went on this new adventure. My new ‘theatre family’ was kind, inspirational and so much fun to be with. For the last three decades we’ve toured our concerts as well as the newTonight…Piaf’ show we wrote in 1989. Tours throughout 5 continents have been highlighted with many laughs and we continue to share life’s ups and downs together; new arrivals; sad departures; forever unions; shift happens separations; bittersweet disappointments and unexpected celebrations. We’re family. And for this, I am so grateful.

I still have a passion of the hospitality industry, it’s in my blood, it’s my roots and roots keep one firmly grounded. Plus I don’t want to define myself by only one label: a singer. And I don’t want to deny myself what life has to offer. So I continue to accept and pursue non-musical adventures that allow me to tap into all my desires and abilities and I try to grab a taste of whatever is being served up on life’s platter when it passes by. After all… we only get one crack at it on this incredible planet but choices abound. And for this, I am so grateful.

29 Responses to And for this I am so grateful

  1. mrs adrian redford says:

    I have seen you twice in Nanaimo, and you are marvelous. I don’t understand why you are not at least as well known as Diana Krall, who is good, but in my opinion, you are better. I am going to look up your schedule and make a point of going to your next concert. We live in Lund, and would like to know what would be involved in getting you to perform in Powell River.


    Adrian Redford

    • adrian redford says:


      I just read an e-mail that I wrote to you some time ago. I had forgotten the e-mail, but I have not forgotten you and your talent. I am playing the 2 cd’s of yours for our neighbours, and they asked how they could purchase some of your music, especially Piaf.

      I have another request. The Patricia Theatre in Powell River is the oldest continuously operating movie theatre in Canada. It is now threatened with having to close because movies are going digital in July/12. It will cost $75,000 for the owners to convert to digital, and with Net Flix, etc., they are just getting by and cannot afford the conversion cost. A few people are doing some fundraising, because we feel it would be a shame for the theatre to close. We have a fairly large French community in Powell River, and I am going to contact a few members of the French Club to see if between us we might afford to have you hold a concert in the Patricia.

      I can’t believe that your name is not familiar with many people here, and yet you are famous on Vancouver Island. I want the people in Powell River to hear your wonderful voice.

      I hope to hear from you, re how to purchase your cd’s, and your fee for performing out of town, and if you would consider it.

      Yours sincerely,

      Adrian Redford

  2. Nina Isabel Ferretti says:

    I have seen every show that Joelle Rabu has mounted since City Stage. I absolutely agree that she has a talent incomparable to some well known singers…; but in the arts it’s not necessarily talent that counts as much as what “package” can one be sold as…
    It’s a tough business. One has to love the arts to survive, because it sure is not the money that keeps most artists from going forward.
    Joelle is incredibly talented, writing her own lyrics, music and playing many instruments. Seeing her on stage is an unforgettable experience. I miss seeing her perform in The Greater Vancouver.
    Nina Isabel Ferretti

  3. Joan Phillips says:

    Tonight… Piaf! Amazing performance at the Chemainus Theatre. Not to be missed!

  4. Katharine Lebow says:

    I saw Joelle’s show at the Chemainus Theatre, last night, October 27,2011 – it was simply magnificent. I never expected such a professional, brilliant, moving performance! I found myself spellbound and at times weeping, it was transformative.
    Merci Beaucoup Joelle.

  5. Hans & Tannis Schaub says:

    We first saw you perform Piaf at the City Stage some 30 years ago, which we thoroughly enjoyed and we have just returned home from seeing “Tonight….Piaf” in Chemainus. Amazing performance….acting, singing, orchestra. We felt as though we were seeing Piaf herself. Thank you for the experience.

  6. Connie Thompson says:

    I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing and hearing your performance many years ago at Malaspina College and loved it. Last evening I attended your performance at the Cowichan Theatre with my 92 year old mother, sister and husband, you are incredible. I met you a number of years ago, our connection is thru Ross, the late manager of the Alder’s. We all loved the show last night, it was a pleasure that I hope to repeat in the future. The arts is a tough business, but you obviously love what you do and do it so very well. When you sang your closing number it sent shivers of memories of both Ross and Bess and an evening when you did an impromptu sing at the beach campfire.

  7. james says:

    nice looking joelle! i am updating my website and adding you to mine.. it will be updated in the next few weeks… i hope to see you down in chemainus in the next month.. love james

  8. Nicole Cederberg says:

    Ms. Rabu, I am on the executive for the upcming 2012 British Columbia Festival of the Performing Arts being held in Nanaimo this year and we are putting together an “Inspriation Page” in our program. It will include messages to our 500 young festival competitors from those British Columbians who have gone on to enjoy success in various arts disciplines. We would be homoured if you would consider providing a message and allowing us to feature you on our page as an inspiration to all these hard working performers. Will you agree?

  9. inga johanson says:

    Mi ŝatus ke vi denove kantu en esperanto. Mi havas vian belan voĉon en mia i-pod sed
    aliaj devus aŭdi vian voĉon tra la tuta mondo.

  10. RABU says:


    Je suis heureuse de te voire de Bretagne, j’ai souvent entendu mon père Henri Rabu, parlé de toi de son frère Jean et toute sa famille, malheureusement il est décédé en 1992 et maman en 1999. Maintenant je suis restée à Rennes ou je travaille dans l’administration.
    J’espère que si tu passes par chez moi, c’est avec plaisir que je t’accueillerai!!!
    Je crois que de chanter Edith Piaf, c’est dans les gênes, je chantais beaucoup avant pour faire plaisir à mon père qui l’adorait.

    Je te souhaite pleins de bonnes choses pour l’avenir, et je t’embrasse de la Bretagne.

    Ta cousine Christine RABU

  11. Frances Lagnaz says:

    My friend Nina Ferretti introduced me to Joelle & her God given amazing voice & talent – and for this I am so grateful.

  12. Rachel McMillen says:

    Hi Joelle,
    Your performances here in Ajijic at the Red Piano Bar were amazing – and I may see you again before you leave us. Hope we can do something together in Haida Gwaii.

  13. Brenda Campbell says:

    I was at the Red Piano in Ajijic, Mexico last night to see your performance. It was absolutely wonderful. You have a magnificent voice and your son is an amazing piano player. I loved the song you did with your technical trio. It was perfect. Your arm and hand movements made it exceptional. I wanted to buy your CD but the woman in front of me bought the last one. It was the display model. I can’t believe you are not, as another fan wrote, as well known as Krall. I hope you return to Ajijic and I’ll be there. Congratulations, what a wonderful gift you have.

    Best Regards,
    Brenda Campbell

  14. Mark Cybulski says:

    Dear Ms. Rabu,

    Although based in Chicago, I was commuting to Vancouver for a consulting assignment in the early ’80’s. I and one of my co-workers were very fortunate to find out about your City Stage presentation of Piaf. Although I knew little about Piaf before coming to the show, I was completely overwhelmed by your performance. In one of the subsequent weeks, my wife flew out to join me, instead of me going home, so that she might enjoy Vancouver, and your performance. It remains our all-time favorite live performance, and we thank you. Luckily, I bought the cast album, and we still enjoy it. (and sorry to admit, having now heard the Piaf originals and your interpretations, we prefer Rabu!)

    Thank you, and all the best,

    Mark Cybulski

    • joelle says:

      Heartfelt thanks… a year later! I am afraid I have been rather lax with my site. Again, thank you for your kind words, going back in time is never a bad thing! Cheers, stay well, joelle

  15. Yvette rabu says:

    Bonjour je suis ta cousine tu me connais pas je suis la fille d’Henri le frère de ton papa et la sœur de Christine ça me ferait très plaisir de faire ta connaissance je suis donc Yvette si tu veux. On peut se contacter je te dit à bientot

    • joelle says:

      Bonjour Yvette, La famille s’épanouie, il est temps de faire la connaissance des cousins et cousines du pays de mes aïeux! J’ai connu ton papa, il m’a chanter une chanson que je n’oublierai jamais-‘Du Gris’. Il avait la même voix que papa; grave ainsi que douce. Je crois que mon côté musicale vient du côté des Rabu! J’espère faire un retour en France un de ces jours. Cela fait 21 ans depuis mon dernier voyage en Bretagne. Ouf! Ou habite tu? Et ta soeur Christine et sa famille…êtes vous tous dans les alentours de Rennes? Faudra m’explique tout ça. J’ai un neveu (du Canada) qui habite Roquebilliere dans le sud. Il travail sur les grands bateaux comme chef donc il est rarement sur place. En espérant garder contacte…bises du Canada!

  16. Hi Joelle,

    my o my…time goes by. I was so happy to stumble upon this site and read about you. I knew some about you; however, this was interesting to read. The adventure in you and I’ll never forget when you performed. It still as fresh as when I was there. I have many wonderful memories at your home too and am grateful for your hospitality. I’m glad to hear that your adventurous spirit travels and you challenge the unknown. I’m thankful to have met you and saw the performer in you. There is no lack of talent. Keep at it, Joelle…forever in my heart.
    Best of luck with what life’s bring you.
    Rachel Leclerc

    • joelle says:

      Rachel! Oh mon dieu, how nice to hear from you after all these years. I have not been very diligent with my website lately-my apologies for not seeing your message earlier. I do hope you are well and happy and still singing!! I will have to tell Nico you connected, he is doing so well. Thank you for the opportunities you provided him. Please stay in touch, je t’embrasse bien fort ma chérie!

  17. Wayne Wagner says:

    I have just been listening to your cast recording of ” Tonight, Piaf”. It had been awhile; I’m visiting Halifax (I ‘m from Chilliwack, B.C.) and wanted to share your voice with some family. I had the fortune to see you at City Stage and in Chilliwack. Your music takes me back so many years ago: merci beau coup!

    • joelle says:

      awww, thank you Wayne! City Stage was my first theatre home. Spent a year doing Piaf there and then another remount in 1986 before we went to China to perform. And Chilliwack…I remember 2 venues that we played there: the first was the Blue Unicorn and the other was the community theatre as it first opened. Whew, we’re talking a few year back here! THanks for the kind words, stay well!

  18. bonjour joelle je suis le fils de ta cousine monique fille de HENRI le frere de jean iiton pere je me suis un peu renseigne sur notre famille j” ai lu le message de ma tante christine qui ma beauccup emue que c’est bon de pouvoire comunique meme a des millier kms au moin et je le savais parce que ma mere mans avais parle qu”ons avais de la famille au canada ma mere est decede accidentelement je suis surt q”elle aurait aime te conaitre je t” embrasse tres fort

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