Under French rule, what is now Quebec was called le Canada and was the most developed colony of New France. After many generations of French settlers born in Canada, the colonists began to identify with their home country and call themselves les Canadiens (the Canadians) to make a distinction with les Français (the French), those who were native of France. A similar socio-cultural phenomenon occurred in Acadia, and numerous other European colonies in America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
The Canadiens inherited a rich tradition of songs and dances from northern France, namely the regions of Île-de-France, Picardy, Normandy, Poitou, and Brittany. These regions are there to explain the celtic connection that Quebec still shares today with Brittany, Ireland, Scotland and the Maritimes.
As time went by, the French Canadians began to develop their own music and incorporated and transformed the styles of music played by the settlers from Great Britain after the Conquest. (100 of these songs were collected by Ernest Gagnon for an 1865 compilation, one of the first such collection to be published in Canada.)
By the 1960s, radio and television had begun to help disseminate French folk songs, especially after the 1967 foundation of the Centennial Collection of Canadian Folk Songs, including recordings of Quebec performers like Yves Albert and Jacques Labrecque, as well as Acadian Edith Butler.
The most popular song writers and singers of this period were Gilles Vigneault and Félix Leclerc, who brought more influences, especially from English Canada, to the music of France-based singing stars like Jacques Brel. Leclerc, from La Tuque, and Vigneault, from Natashquan in the north of Quebec, became heroes for a new generation of Quebec youth. It was Vigneault's "Mon pays", (My Country), which became a rallying anthem for Quebec nationalism after a 1965 performance by Monique Leyrac, and established a tradition of Quebec artists supporting Quebec's independence movement. Many artists openly endorsed it, notably Raymond Lévesque, Pauline Julien and Paul Piché.
In the 1960s, the French Canadians of Quebec were beginning to self-identify as Québécois (Quebecers). See the Quiet Revolution. Another important nationalist performer during this period was Georges Dor, who enjoyed international success with his recording of his own composition, "La complainte de la Manic" ("The Ballad of Manicouagan"); other popular singers of the time include Claude Gauthier and Clemence Desrochers. Popular artists of the 70s included Harmonium, Offenbach, Plume Latraverse, and Beau Dommage, as well as Michel Rivard.
In 1974, Vigneault and Leclerc played on the Plains of Abraham with Robert Charlebois, who used made heavy use of Quebec French in his rock and roll fusions. The 70s also saw roots performers like La Bottine Souriante gain critical and commercial acclaim within Quebec. Jim Corcoran and Bertrand Gosselin released La tête en gigue, an influential album that helped bring Quebec roots to crossover audiences across Canada, the United States and Europe.
In addition to his musical career, Corcoran currently hosts a weekly show on CBC Radio One, which airs Francophone music from Quebec for English audiences across Canada.
More recent Quebec performers include Richard Desjardins, Daniel Boucher, Marie-Chantal Toupin, Éric Lapointe, Vilains Pingouins, Les Cowboys Fringants, Malajube, Les trois accords, Kaïn, Dumas, Les Colocs, Daniel Bélanger, Laurence Jalbert, Rudy Caya, Jean Leloup, La Chicane, Dan Bigras, and Isabelle Boulay.
In 2003, a localization of American Idol debuted. Known as Star Académie, several new artists including Marie-Élaine Thibert, Marie-Mai, Émily Begin and Stéphanie Lapointe became well-known music artists after their passage in the reality show.
The tensions between Quebec and English Canada have, at times, played out on Quebec's music scene as well. In 1991, Céline Dion won the Félix award for Best Anglophone Artist for her English-language debut, Unison, but refused it as she did not view herself as an Anglophone artist. After the controversy caused by this incident, Dion has been careful not to clearly declare herself as either federalist or sovereignist.
Quebec has also produced a number of significant Anglophone artists, including Sam Roberts, Bran Van 3000, Deja Voodoo, Simple Plan, Voivod, The Dears, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Stars, Arcade Fire, The Stills, The Unicorns, Wolf Parade, Rufus Wainwright, and Me Mom & Morgentaler. In addition, some Quebec artists also included in the 1970s and in the 1980s Lewis Furey, Leonard Cohen, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Men Without Hats, Norman Iceberg, Rational Youth, Corey Hart, The Box, Gino Vannelli, Jacynthe, France Joli, Sass Jordan, and Grimskunk, who have frequently recorded both English and French material.
Some famous Jazz musicians from Quebec are Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones, Charles Biddle, Ranee Lee, Karen Young, Alain Caron, and Michel Donato. Some other talented jazz artists are to note too, including Johane Bergeron with her first album Mon premier Disque. Montreal's International Jazz Festival attracts huge crowds of visitors each summer, half of which come from abroad. For the rest of the year, there is an Off festival that organizes Jazz shows in bars all over Montreal.
The popularity of World music is rising. Mostly in the city of Montreal, well know for its cultural diversity, but also in other regions of Quebec. Dobacaracol, La Chango Family, Papagroove, Sagapool, Kaba-Hora, Les Gitans de Sarajevo, Oztara and Kleztory are the most well known bands of this category.
Angèle Dubeau, Louis Lortie, Alain Lefèvre, Alain Trudel, Alexandre Da Costa and Marc-André Hamelin are top classical musicians from Quebec at the present. Les Violons du Roy is a very popular violin ensemble.
André Mathieu is among the most renowned composers from the province. He has been compared to a ‘little Canadian Mozart’, and Rachmaninov pronounced him, "a genius, more so than I am". Other famous composers are Claude Champagne, Calixa Lavallée and Pierre Mercure, among others.
Rock Voisine and Natasha St-Pier are two artists who also perform in France and are often mistaken for Quebecers. They are actually from New Brunswick and are of Acadian heritage.
Quebec singers are renowned for their technical sound and powerful voices.
Cirque du Soleil has always developed its own musical pieces to go along with various acrobatic tricks. The music aspect of the shows is essential as it sets a mood to every single performance and links one number to another.