Salvador was born in Cayenne, French Guiana. His father, Clovis, and his mother, Antonine Paterne, daughter of a native Carib Indian, were both from Guadeloupe, French West Indies. Salvador had a brother, André, and a sister, Alice.
He began his musical career as a guitarist accompanying other singers. He had learned the guitar by imitating Django Reinhardt’s recordings, and was to work alongside him in the 1940s. Salvador recorded several songs written by Boris Vian with Quincy Jones as arranger. He played many years with Ray Ventura et Ses Collégiens where he used to sing, dance and even play comedy on stage.
He also appeared in movies including Nous irons à Monte-Carlo (1950), Nous irons à Paris (Jean Boyer’s film of 1949 with the Peters Sisters) and Mademoiselle s’amuse (1948).
He is known to have recorded the first French rock and roll songs in 1957 written by Boris Vian and Michel Legrand — “Rock’n Roll Mops”, “Rock hoquet, Va t’faire cuire un oeuf, man” and “Dis-moi qu’tu m’aimes rock” — under the artist name of Henry Cording (a play on the word “Recording”). Despite this historical aspect, he never ceased to claim that he disliked rock and roll and even refused to talk about this subject later on.
In the 1960s, Salvador was the host of several popular television variety shows on French TV. In 1964, he scored a hit with “Zorro est arrivé”, which was inspired by The Coasters’ U.S. hit “Along Came Jones”. He is also famous for his rich, catchy laugh, which is a theme in many of his humorous songs. In 1969, Henri Salvador recorded a variation of “Mah Nà Mah Nà” entitled “Mais non, mais non” (“But No, But No” or “Of Course Not, Of Course Not”), with lyrics he had written in French to Piero Umiliani’s music.
Henri Salvador and his song “Dans mon île” (1957) were thought to be an influence on Antônio Carlos Jobim in formulating the Brazilian bossa nova style.
Caetano Veloso, a famous Brazilian composer and singer, made Henri Salvador famous to Brazilian audiences with the song “Reconvexo”, in which he says “quem não sentiu o swing de Henri Salvador?” (“who hasn’t felt the swing of Henri Salvador?”). Veloso also recorded a version of Salvador’s song “Dans mon île”.
At the age of 70, Salvador was the voice-over of the crab Sebastian in the 1989 French dubbing of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Recordings of “Embrasse-la” (“Kiss the Girl”) can be found on YouTube.
Salvador discovered singers Keren Ann and Art Mengo.
He died of a ruptured aneurysm at his home in the early hours of 13 February 2008. He was 90 years of age. He was buried next to his wife Jacqueline in Père-Lachaise Cemetery.
He was known as a supporter of Paris Saint-Germain F.C. He obtained four seats for life in the Parc des Princes.