Written and recorded by Quebec country music pioneer Marcel Martel in 1952, the French-language country ballad Un coin du ciel established a family tradition by later becoming a hit for Marcel’s daughter Renée Martel, French Canada’s “La grande dame du country.”
Marcel Martel wrote Un coin du ciel soon after leaving a sanatorium where he had been treated for tuberculosis. Upon regaining his health, he performed his new composition at Le Theatre Royal in his hometown of Drummondville, Quebec, with little Renée singing by his side. Renée tells audiences now, “C’est la première chanson, quand j’étais petite, que j’ai chanté sur scène” (“It was the first song that I sang on stage when I was little.”) The song gave the celebrated country-pop star her start in show business.
Marcel Martel made his first recording of Un coin du ciel as a 78-rpm disc (Apex 9-17026), with Bonsoir mon amour on the B side. By 1956 the song appeared again on his album “Marcel Martel et ses chansons,” then on a 1964 45-rpm single (Compo G-21213) and on several albums, ensuring the song’s place in the hearts of French-Canadian country music fans.
Marcel’s original recording of this simple universal love story was sung in a suitably unvarnished, traditional country-western style, with a nasal twang and spare solo guitar accompaniment, recalling early American hit-makers Jimmie Rodgers (“The Father of Country Music”) and Hank Williams. Later versions and covers added some sophistication with extra guitar work, fiddle, drums, and backing vocals; among these slicker productions was Renée’s hit cover on her 1981 country album “Un coin du ciel,” arranged by Jacques Laflèche.
The family affair with her dad’s song continued when Renée included it on her gold-selling, ADISQ-winning album “À mon père” as a virtual duet (released around the time of Marcel’s death in 1999). The song is heard again on her 2013 “Album de famille,” sung with her mother, Noëlla Therrien, and it’s on her “Une Vie en chanson: 50 ans de carrière.”
Un coin du ciel’s significance stretches beyond mere record sales. Along with Martel’s other compositions, it influenced later artists like Quebec superstar Isabelle Boulay (who heard the song on radio from childhood) and contemporary country singer-songwriter René Turgeon. Turgeon learned the hits of Martel, Paul Brunelle and Willie Lamothe from his grandfather, and found that country music is, as he put it, “C’est une musique du cœur, une musique vraie, qui parle des sentiments qu’on a vraiment en-dedans de nous. C’est une musique qui vient nous toucher, qui est profonde.” (“It’s music from the heart, real music, that speaks of real feelings that we have inside. It’s music that touches us and is profound.”)
Notably, Georges Hamel acknowledged Martel’s influence by writing Marcel a chanté, a tribute that opens with the line “Marcel a chanté Un coin du ciel / il a bercé un monde sans pareil” (“Marcel sang Un coin du ciel; which rocked the world”). And in Hamel’s cover of Un coin du ciel, he adds that line as a linking introduction. Un coin du ciel has also been covered by Franco-Ontarian country singer Marie King and others, and is heard on compilation albums such as “Héritage Québécois” and “Nos Cowboys Québécois.”
More recently Un coin du ciel was included on a 2005 Marcel Martel CD named after the song, part of the “Les élites du country” series.
Marcel Martel (1925 – 1999), country singer-songwriter, was born in Drummondville, Quebec. He began his career performing the songs of Quebec’s Le soldat Lebrun and American country singers. He had his first hit in 1947 and was widely heard on a weekly radio show and later his own TV show. Over his career he had an output of around 500 songs and 40 albums.