While much of the globe remembers Yannick Noah as the dreadlocked tennis champion who claimed the 1983 French Open title, in his native France he is also a major pop music star.
The son of famed footballer Zacharie Noah, he was born in Sedan, France, on May 18, 1960, but spent much of his childhood in his father's native Cameroon. Despite his affection for Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, Noah chose to pursue sports over music, proving especially gifted as a tennis player. In time he captured the attention of American tennis legend Arthur Ashe, who in 1971 installed him in Nice's French Tennis Federation development program. Upon turning professional in 1977, it took Noah just a year to claim his first singles title in Manila. A flamboyant player renowned for his blistering forehand, he achieved immortality in 1983 when he defeated reigning champion Mats Wilander to become the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the French Open (and, as of this writing, he remains the last Frenchman to claim the honor as well). In a career spanning close to two decades, Noah captured 23 total singles titles and 16 doubles honors, and in 1986 was the world's third-ranked men's singles player. An 11-year member of the French Davis Cup squad, in 1991 Noah captained the national team to its first championship in 59 years, upsetting a heavily favored U.S. lineup 3-1; he repeated the feat five years later, and in 1997 also led France's Fed Cup team to its first-ever top finish. In 2005, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
With his tennis career waning, Noah began his recording career in 1990 with the single "Saga Africa." Thanks in large part to his record label's negotiations with private television network TF1, the accompanying video became a broadcasting staple and vaulted the record to the top of the French charts. Its success swiftly established Noah as France's first former athlete to enjoy genuine commercial success as a pop singer, and set the stage for the 1991 release of his first LP, Black et What, which featured lyrics in French, English, and Cameroonian alongside guest contributions from Manu Dibango and Idrissa Diop. Despite another massive promotional campaign, Noah's 1993 follow-up, Urban Tribu, proved a commercial disaster, and in the years to follow he turned his focus back to music, concurrently writing a 1997 memoir Secrets Etc... Later that same year he also resumed his recording pursuits with "Oh Rêve," a controversial pacifist reworking of the French national anthem "La Marseillaise." Only in 2000 did Noah finally issue his third LP, a self-titled effort informed by the music and culture of his African heritage. Dubbed "Afro-reggae" by the singer himself, his new sound revitalized his chart stature, and the single "Les Lionnes" rocketed to number one. Pokhara hit retail in 2003, and sold in excess of a million copies. Its half-live/half-studio follow-up, Métisse(s), highlighted by a duet with reggae icon Jimmy Cliff, trailed two years later.
In 2005 Noah reinvigorated his musical career with a performance at the Paris instalment of Bob Geldof's Live 8 concerts. The following year he released Charango, which included French chart topping single “Aux Arbres Citoyens”. The schedule of extensive touring to promote the record culminated in 2009 where he played his first New York show at the popular Central Park SummerStage, which was hosted in the global celebration of French music, Fête de la Musique. His eighth release, 2010’s Frontières, was crowned with a sold-out show at the 80,000 capacity Stade de France stadium in Paris. In 2012, Noah released Hommage, which saw him tackle songs by Bob Marley, one of his greatest inspirations -- in both his music and sport careers. The record featured renditions of classics "Buffalo Soldier," "I Shot the Sheriff," and "Redemption Song." ~ Jason Ankeny