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Karl Tremblay, singer of Cowboys Fringants, dies at 47

Cowboys Fringants singer Karl Tremblay has died at the age of 47.

The artist had been battling prostate cancer for several years after revealing in July 2022 that he had been diagnosed with the disease and was being monitored by specialists.

The band members announced Karl Tremblay's death on Instagram with "indescribable sadness."

"He was an exemplary warrior in the face of illness and a role model for us all. We want to thank everyone who showed us their love over the past years, we were carried by your support," says the message signed Marie-Annick, Jean-François and Jérôme.

The La Tribu record label also announced the singer's death, speaking of a "man of integrity, generosity and loyalty."

On Feb. 28, 2023, his partner and Cowboys Fringants accomplice Marie-Annick Lépine announced on Facebook that chemotherapy was no longer working, and that Karl would begin "another treatment after the March break".

He continued to accompany the Cowboys Fringants on stage despite the chemotherapy treatments. However, the band had to decide to cancel some dates in the summer of 2023 before postponing all shows scheduled for the fall.

"I've decided to listen to you and to myself. To take a break," he said in a video shared on his Instagram account at the end of September.

"We're not dead yet, we're not dead, we're working on it," he added with a smile.

The Cowboys Frigants salute the crowd as the organization evacuate the Plaines of Abraham because of foul weather, Thursday, July 13, 2023 at the Quebec Summer Festival in Quebec City. Lead singer Karl Tremblay, who suffers from cancer, is hugged by his wife Marie-Annick Lepine, Jean-Francois Pauze, centre and Jerome Dupras. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

In July, the band offered a historic performance at the Festival d'été de Québec, playing to a crowd of 90,000 fans gathered on the Plains of Abraham.

After a year full of setbacks, the group was crowned Group of the Year at the ADISQ gala, where Tremblay was not present.

"Thank you to all the Quebec public for making us the 2023 Group of the Year, twenty years apart," he said in a video the following day. See you soon, folks!"

Born in Montreal on Oct. 28, 1976, Tremblay met guitarist Jean-François Pauzé in his basement, while the two young men were playing field hockey in Repentigny "in junior B." The singer found his guitarist, and in 1995-1996, the two boys formed their band, along with violinist Marie-Annick Lépine, who later became Tremblay's wife.

In 1997, the dashing Cowboys, joined in the meantime by Domlebo and Jérôme Dupras, quietly released their first album, "12 grandes chansons". A few shows later, they were labelled a "party band," and word of mouth did the rest.

Les Cowboys Fringants, from left, Marie-Annick Lepine, Karl Tremblay, Jerome Dupras and Jean Francois Pauze during their performance at the Quebec Summer Festival, in Quebec City, Monday, July 17, 2023. Tremblay is currently battling cancer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Francofolies de Montréal in 2000, then the "Motel Capri" tour, followed by the "Break Syndical" album in March 2002: the band was now launched, and their first live album, "Attache ta tuque!" (2003). The general public then discovered not only a band, but also a singer, Karl Tremblay, who knows how to get crowds on their feet with a rare enthusiasm.

From 2004 onwards, it was French-speaking Europeans who discovered the band -- Quebecers couldn't believe it when French audiences sang the lyrics to their Cowboys by heart.

Over the years, the group has maintained its enormous popularity in Quebec and Europe. They won Félix awards for Best Group of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2011, 2020 and 2021, thanks partly to Karl Tremblay's remarkable ability to stir up the crowds.

Tremblay mostly sang lyrics by his sidekick Jean-François Pauzé, but also composed a few songs himself, including the touching "Ruelle Laurier" featured on "Break Syndical."


Tributes poured in like shooting stars at the news of Tremblay's death.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, the Association québécoise de l'industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo (ADISQ) noted that the group had "marked the history of music in Quebec," and had done so for 25 years.

"He will forever remain our shooting star. All our condolences to Marie-Annick, Jean-François, Jérôme, as well as to his family and loved ones."

Also on X, Place des Arts shared "Quebec's sadness at the death of singer Karl Tremblay. With the Cowboys Fringants, he brought unforgettable moments and songs to all generations across Quebec and beyond".

On Facebook, singer-songwriter Émile Bilodeau referred to his childhood idol as a "flamboyant warrior."

In a telephone interview, Bilodeau said that Tremblay had made the profession even "nobler."

"You need energy to spare to (do shows like these), and you can't overlook his resilience," the young artist said.

"We saw him tired, we saw him exhausted and out of resources and out of breath, but Karl really wanted to give his audience a good show," he added. It's all a lesson he taught young artists, and even older ones."

In Quebec City, flags will also be lowered at City Hall on Thursday, to honour the "cultural legacy" of an artist who seemed to have unanimous support.

"A great man who had the Capitale-Nationale region on fire more than once," recalled Mayor Bruno Marchand.

The shock was also felt at the National Assembly, where Premier François Legault called Tremblay "a great star, a beautiful star. A shooting star," in reference to one of the Cowboys Fringants' greatest hits.

"Karl Tremblay has left us and all of Quebec mourns. My most sincere condolences to his family and loved ones," said Legault.

"Montreal mourns. A great artist is leaving us. Karl Tremblay's voice and songs will echo in our hearts for a long time to come. My most sincere sympathies to his fans, to the members of the Cowboys and to his loved ones," posted Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on X.

A little later, she announced that the flags at city hall would be flown at half-mast.

The Minister of Culture and Communications, Mathieu Lacombe, said on X that he was "heartbroken" to learn of the death of "the voice of what is in my opinion today the most striking and influential group in the history of Quebec."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Nov. 15, 2023. Top Stories

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