Tour Accordioniste Yvette Horner

The Tour de France’s promotional caravan has been part of the race’s spectacle longer than most of us have been alive. In an age when terms like “leverage” and “ROI” had yet to be invented, the promotional caravan gave the Tour’s organizers a way to “monetize” the race and generate revenue from more than just the sale of newspapers.

For more than 10 years in the 1950s and ’60s, one of the Tour’s most distinctive attractions was an accordion-playing woman named Yvette Horner. The Serbian immigrant serenaded the bystanders and played at the podium presentation following each stage.

During the 2010 Tour the Amaury Sport Organization resurrected her Peugeot van that ferried her through each stage. The van was turned into a monument to her. Inside there are photos of her with Tour greats as well as shots of her playing her accordion while wearing the sombrero that became the trademark of her look.

Taped to the dash of the Peugeot is a shot of Horner with Louison Bobet.

Horner is said to have been a particular favorite of Bobet’s; there are numerous photographs of them together. She saw 11 Tours, from ’52 to ’64.

The shot above is from 1961 and Horner is present as the Tour’s father, Jacques Goddet, congratulates Jean Gainche, the wearer of the green jersey for most of the ’61 Tour, though Andre Darrigade would wear the jersey in Paris.

Before the Peugeot van was commissioned, Horner was ferried in a Citroen Traction Avant, seen above. Here presence was initially sponsored by Calor, a maker of electric irons, hair dryers, space heaters and other household appliances. Later, she was sponsored by Suze, a bitter aperitif.

For those who appreciated the pastiche elements of “The Triplets of Belleville,” Horner was immortalized in the accordioniste Rosie Riviere (a play on “Rosie the Riveter”), and Citroen’s Traction Avant was the basis for the car the gangsters drove during Madame Souza and Champion’s great escape. The Traction Avant was a front-wheel drive car, which is the basis for the joke of why the cars lost traction and flipped over backward on the steep hills of Belleville.

And while it might seem that Horner should have faded from both memory and history, CDs of her albums can be found on Amazon. She could play!

Images of Horner’s Peugeot van courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International
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  1. Marco Placero

    Why like this post? Don’t know but do. Guess it’s got something goin’ with illusory nostalgia, like hearing accordion music announcing the race leaders commin’ fast behind the cops.
    Wish things were simpler now.

    1. Author

      Everyone: Thanks much.

      Howard H: I adore that film for its loving references. Every now and then I fantasize about deconstructing its every reference from Anquetil and the climb of the south side of the Col de l’Izoard through the Caisse Dessert to the opening montage of Fred Astaire, Django Rinehardt and Josephine Baker. The beauty of that film is how true it is.

      P. Poppenjay: She still does; she’s 88 and is said to be assisting in a documentary of her life and career. Can’t. Freakin’. Wait.

  2. P. Poppenjay

    Loved learning about Yvette ang then listening to her play.
    She must have had SOME stories to tell….

    Where else but here at RKP would I have been introduced to a now
    forgotten legend.

  3. Doug P

    Thanks, Padraig! Great choice of topic. The off season is the time to explore the pageantry of Le Tour. ‘L’accordion’ evokes my childhood memories of growing up near Paris. That, and bagpipes never fail to give me that twinge of bittersweet nostalgia. And don’t even talk about “Danny Boy”!

  4. randomactsofcycling

    I do wish things were so gentile these days. Nice choice of topic Padraig. I would love to have one of those old vans.

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