The son of an Italian (Calabrian) mother and a French father, Claude François was born in Egypt, in the city of Ismaïlia, where his father, Aimé François (1908–1961), was working as a shipping traffic controller on the Suez Canal. In 1951 the job took the family to the city of Port Tawfiq on the Gulf of Suez.
The singer's full name was Claude Antoine Marie. It was traditional in his father's family to give boys names that start with the letter A, but his mother managed to impose her will and named him "Claude." "Antoine" was then given as a middle name, and "Marie," the name of the Virgin Mary, was also given in order to protect the child. Claude François had an older sister, Josette ( 1934- ), who wrote her memoirs in 2008.
François' mother, Lucia Mazzeï (1910–1992), also known as Chouffa, was very musical and had her son take piano and violin lessons. On his own, the boy learned to play the drums. As a result of the 1956 Suez Crisis, the family returned to live in Monaco, where they struggled financially after François' father fell ill and could not work. A young François found a job as a bank clerk and at night earned extra money playing drums with an orchestra at the luxury hotels along the French Riviera. With a good but untested nasal singing voice, he was offered a chance to sing at a hotel in the fashionable Mediterranean resort town of Juan-les-Pins. His show was well received and eventually he began to perform at the glamorous night-clubs along the Côte d'Azur. While working the clubs, he met Janet Woolcoot, an English dancer whom he married in 1960.
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