As the youngest of 14 children in a working-class family in Quebec, Celine Dion should have been lucky just to get her hands on the leftover bread and cheese, much less on a piano. But in her household, in the small village of Charlemagne, east of Montreal, two things were beloved: children and music. (Celine was named for a song her mother was singing while she was pregnant.) Her parents operated a small restaurant and club where the children could showcase their musical talents, led by their father's accordion and mother's violin, and Celine first stretched her vocal chords there at age 5. By the time she was 12, Celine had composed a song, "Ce N'etait Qu'un Rêve" ("It Was Only a Dream"), and with the help of her mother and a brother, she recorded a demo of the song, which she then sent off to an address they found on an album of Ginette Reno, a popular French singer. The address was that of Rene Angelil, who summoned Celine to his office that same day. When he heard her sing live, he cried. He was her first conquest, but there would be millions more. The making of a diva was under way.
Dion's rise from teenage nightclub singer to saccharine siren of the masses (an astonishing percentage of her songs contain the word "love" or "amour" in the title), has been dogged and steady, but not without difficulties. Record companies, it turned out, were less enamored of investing in a preteen than Angelil was. But Angelil was so rapt by Dion that he mortgaged his own home to pay for her debut a risk that was quickly rewarded when her first two albums, La Voix du bon Dieu (The Voice of God) and Celine Chante Noel (Celine Sings Christmas) made her a teen sensation and earned her the endearing nickname "la p'tite Quebecoise." Dion's early years also brought a string of awards, including a gold medal at the Yamaha World Song Festival in Tokyo. By 1983, still in her tender teens, Dion became the first Canadian ever to have a gold record in France.
Dion's later teen years seem almost untouched by the difficulties most child performers have transforming themselves into a palatable adult version of their former selves; the young diva grew more popular with each song, whether it was about the depth of her love, the power of her love, or the metric tonnage of her love. She has won countless Felix and Juno awards (Canadian Grammys). The high point of exposure in Dion's young career came in 1988, when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, and performed live before six hundred million television viewers throughout Europe, the USSR, the Middle East, Japan, and Australia. Still, it was difficult to get her navel-gazing neighbor to the south, the United States, to pay her any notice at all.
In 1990, Dion made her English-language debut with Unison on Epic Records, but her real Stateside breakthrough was orchestrated by Disney. Dion was selected to perform the theme from its animated hit Beauty and the Beast with Peabo Bryson, and the song went on to become the cornerstone for her second English album, 1992's Celine Dion, which boasted four hit singles, including "Love Can Move Mountains" and "Did You Give Enough Love." The theme from Beauty and the Beast went to No. 1 on the charts, and won both a Grammy and an Academy Award.
Dion followed up quickly in America: 1993's ballad-packed The Colour of My Love put the States into full swoon. The album included many new hits with the word love in the title: "When I Fall In Love," which appeared on the Sleepless in Seattle soundtrack; "The Power of Love," a cover of Jennifer Rush's 1985 hit; and "Because You Loved Me," which was featured in promotions for Robert Redford's Up Close and Personal. The latter gave Dion some much-needed television exposure. (Trailers for the movie featured almost as much coverage of Dion belting out the tune as shots of Michelle Pfeiffer trying to look like a reporter.)
Her endless recording, contests, and touring left little time for young Celine to date. But Rene Angelil managed to solve that problem as well. He began a romantic involvement with his greatest client shortly after she turned 19. The thrice-married Angelil, 26 years Dion's senior, kept the affair secret for several years, fearing fans would find the whole thing a little creepy. But when the couple finally married in 1994 at Montreal's grand Notre Dame Basilica, Canadians treated it like a royal wedding. Her performance at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games solidified her spot on the world stage. Performing "The Power of the Dream," a song co-written for her by Linda Thompson, Babyface, and David Foster (whom she has worked with on every one of her English-language albums), Dion's rail-thin figure was etched into America's psyche. In fact, her 1996 album, Falling Into You, won Grammys for Album of the Year and Best Pop Album.
Following up such a successful album might faze some people, but not the unsinkable Celine. In early 1997, Celine recorded the theme song for Titanic, directed by the reputedly "difficult" James Cameron. Over budget, missed deadlines, a catered meal laced with PCP, reshoots, and reported turmoil on the set were but a few of the setbacks endured by the film and its crew, seemingly destining the flick to become, like its namesake, an oceanic flop. Oh, how the tides changed when Titanic was finally released in the fall. And riding the wave of the unparalleled success of that movie was Celine, whose voice has by now become synonymous with the film. There wasn't a radio station or award show you could tune in without hearing those spacious lungs avowing "My Heart Will Go On." The song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, prompting presenter Madonna to quip, "What a shocker."
In late 1997, Celine released Let's Talk About Love an album devoted entirely to her most cherished subjects. In addition to "My Heart Will Go On," Love found Celine belting out 15 more eros-inspired tracks, often alongside some of music's biggest stars. The most fabled pairing is "Tell Him," a duet with the grand dame of divadom, Barbra Streisand. (The duo were supposed to sing the song at the Grammy Awards, but Barbra backed out at the last minute, leaving Celine no choice but to sing the theme song from Titanic solo.) Jovial tenor Luciano Pavarotti joins Dion in "I Hate You Then I Love You," former disco kings the Bee Gees back her on a version of their song "Immortality," and Bryan Adams shows up for his song "Let's Talk About Love." The most curious guest on the album is Corey "Sunglasses at Night" Hart, whose song "Where Is the Love" the junior diva covers. The pairing can only be explained by divulging Hart's nationality: He's Canadian.
Dion hasn't slowed a bit in 1998 if anything, she's been busier than ever. An April appearance with peers Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, and Shania Twain on VH1's Divas Live special (subsequently released as an album in September) further cemented her stature among the diva elite. In September, she released her fourth French-language album, S'il Suffisait D'aimer in Canada (the album came out in the U.S. in October), and in November, Dion's first holiday album, These Are Special Times, arrived. And in keeping with her dogged work ethic, she has already booked a tour of Japan, England, and Europe, which will keep her busy through July of 1999.
The hard work paid off at the Billboard Music Awards in December 1998, an event that honors artists, songs, and albums as determined by retail sales and radio airplay, where the singer won six awards: Album Artist of the Year, Adult Contemporary Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Soundtrack Album of the Year for Titanic, Soundtrack Single of the Year for "My Heart Will Go On," and Female Album of the Year for Let's Talk About Love.
2000 saw Celine release a greatest-hits compilation, All The Way
A Decade of Song, a sort of swan song for the "retiring" diva, who announced that she was taking a hiatus from performing in order to focus on starting a family with her husband. The album, which featured seven new songs along with all of her standards, included the hit "That's The Way It Is" and served as a prelude to recording an episode of VH1's Behind the Music.
In mid-June 2000, Celine and Rene announced to the world that after years of trying and after Rene's bout with cancer they were finally expecting their first child.
Rising from humble beginnings in the small town of Charlemagne, Quebec, Celine Dion
became one of the biggest international stars in pop music history, selling more than 100 million albums worldwide. The youngest in Adhemar and Therese Dion's family of 14 children, Dion
grew up in an environment full of the inherent chaos and material austerity that comes with such a large working-class family. However, the Dion household was also one filled with love for children and music, and her parents and siblings were important figures in the early development of her singing career. Celine
began singing in her parents' piano bar when she was just five years old. By the age of 12 she had written one of her first songs, "Ce N'etait Qu'un Rêve"
("It Was Only a Dream"), which she recorded with the help of her mother and brother and shipped off to a manager named René Angélil
, whose name they found on the back of an album by Ginette Reno
, a popular Francophone singer. After weeks with no response from Angélil
's brother Michel phoned him and said, "I know you haven't listened to the tape, because if you had, you would've called right away." Angélil
dug up the tape and called the family back the same day to set up a meeting with Celine
. When the 12-year-old performed in his office in Montreal, Angélil
cried and set in motion the process of making her a Québécois, and later, an international, star. He mortgaged his house to pay for her first two albums, producing a local number one single. In 1983 she became the first Canadian to have a gold record in France and she won a gold medal at the Yamaha songwriting competition in Japan. Her worldwide reputation was in the making, but success in the United States was not yet forthcoming. When she was 18, Dion
saw Michael Jackson
performing on television and told Angélil
that she wanted to be a star like him. Angélil
's response was to order her to take 18 months off to remake her image. Dion
underwent a physical transformation, cutting her hair, plucking her eyebrows, and having her teeth capped to cover up the incisors that had caused a Quebec humor magazine to dub her "Canine Dion." She was also sent off to English school to polish the language that would help her to break into the American market. When she emerged from this process, she had made an amazing transformation from teen star to adult chanteuse. The payoff came almost immediately. Her 1990 breakthrough album, Unison
, was released in the U.S. by Epic Records
and produced several hit songs, but it was her duet with Peabo Bryson
on the theme song of Disney
's Beauty & the Beast
that was her true breakthrough. "Beauty & the Beast"
reached number one on the pop charts and won both a Grammy and Academy award. The song was also featured on her second English album, 1992's Celine Dion
, which launched another Top Ten American hit with "If You Asked Me To,"
while spawning two additional Top 40 singles, "Nothing Broken But My Heart"
and "Love Can Move Mountains."
During this time there were also important developments in Dion
's personal life. In 1988, Angélil
crossed the line from manager to romantic partner when he kissed Dion
one night after a show in Dublin. Fearful that fans would find the 26-year difference in their ages unsettling, the couple kept their relationship a secret for several years. But their 1994 wedding in Montreal's Notre Dame Basilica was celebrated not only by the 250 invited guests, but by millions of fans worldwide. One of the hardest-working stars in show business, Dion
continued to record and perform on a schedule that would kill most people. She recorded six albums between 1992 and 1996, when her album Falling Into You
took her to a new level of stardom. The recording was a runaway hit, winning Grammys for both Album of the Year and Best Pop Album. 1996 also brought her another honor; she was asked to perform at the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics. Dion
's longest tenure on the pop charts would come the following year, however, when she recorded "My Heart Will Go On,"
the theme song for James Cameron
's blockbuster movie Titanic
. "My Heart Will Go On"
became omnipresent on the radio as Titanic
fever swept the world, and when it was featured on her album Let's Talk About Love
, it helped propel that recording to the top of the charts. By then, Dion
had the power to gather a supporting cast of stars, and the album contained an amazing collection of artists, including Barbra Streisand
, Luciano Pavarotti
, and the Bee Gees
. The album would win a host of awards and bring Dion
a whole new world of fans. Her appearance on VH1's Divas Live
special with Aretha Franklin
, Gloria Estefan
, Mariah Carey
, and Shania Twain
proved popular as well and helped solidify Dion
's position, not only among contemporary female pop singers but historical greats like Franklin
. The continuing popularity of her recordings and live performances made her 1999 sabbatical seem like a tragedy to her fans, but Dion
needed a break after more than a decade and a half at a breakneck pace. In 1999, her husband Angélil
was diagnosed with throat cancer. While the disease responded well to treatment and went into remission, the illness was a wake-up call for Dion
, who decided to put a new emphasis on her family life and announced a temporary retirement so that she could spend more time at home and have a child. After undergoing fertility treatments, she gave birth to a son in January 2001. The Collector's Series, Vol. 1
was released during Dion
's hiatus; it featured many of her best-loved songs, as well as a Spanish-language version of "All by Myself." Dion
returned to the public eye in a big way in March 2002 with A New Day Has Come
. The album debuted at number one in over 17 countries, and was accompanied by a full-scale media blitz. But Dion
's greatest challenge was yet to come. Despite millions of albums sold, the adoration of fans worldwide, and the validation of her peers, Dion
's success was still hampered by image problems that had dogged her since the days of "Canine Dion." While many Americans adored her, just as many snickered at her Québécois heritage and the relative unorthodoxy of her marriage. There was also the issue of her relevancy to lucrative audiences existing outside of her pop vocal constituency. To combat these issues, Dion
and her management made a series of bold moves that attempted to solidify her career and ensure its continuity as she entered her mid-thirties. In early 2002, Dion
announced a three-year, 600-show contract to appear five nights a week in an entertainment extravaganza at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, called A New Day
. The production would take place in a custom-built, 4,000-seat theater and would feature Dion
as the centerpiece of a multimedia program designed and orchestrated by Franco Dragone
, the Belgian theater impresario behind the modern circus phenomenon Cirque du Soleil
. The project united Dion
, her label Sony Music
's production company Creations du Dragon, Caesar's parent Park Place Entertainment, and promoter Concerts West in a landmark multi-million-dollar alliance that hinged on Dion
's ability to put fans in seats five nights a week for three years. In conjunction with the rollout of A New Day
was an endorsement deal with German automaker DaimlerChrysler AG worth additional millions. The campaign placed Dion
in a series of black-and-white advertisements promoting the stylish allure of Chrysler's line of upscale automobiles. The performer also recorded a brand-new song to accompany the spots. Debuting in early 2003, the campaign dovetailed into the March release of One Heart
's first album since 2001's A New Day Has Come
, which in turn heralded the opening of A New Day
on March 25, 2003. That live Las Vegas show was documented on the summer 2004 release New Day: Live in Las Vegas
, which was followed a few months later by Miracle
, a collection of family songs designed as a tandem book/CD project between Dion
and photographer Anne Geddes
. The two-CD compilation On Ne Change Pas
appeared in 2005, featuring her most popular French-language songs and a new collaboration with the operatic pop vocal foursome Il Divo
, "I Believe in You (Je Crois en Toi)."
A new French-language album, D'Elles
, arrived in May 2007 and debuted at the top of the Canadian album chart. In November of that same year, Dion
released the English-language Taking Chances
and announced a tour of South Africa and Europe scheduled for 2008. She released the CD/DVD Taking Chances World Tour: The Concert
, as well as the documentary DVD Celine: Through the Eyes of the World
. A new French album, Sans Attendre
, was released in 2012 and, the following year, her English-speaking fans' six-year wait was rewarded with the announcement of the album Loved Me Back to Life
. Heralded by its hip-hop-inflected title-track single, the album, released in November, featured duets with Ne-Yo
and Stevie Wonder
alongside a cover of Daniel Merriweather
's "Water and a Flame." ~ Stacia Proefrock, Rovi